New? Begin with lesson one.
If you can find beta readers you can trust to give you honest and full feedback, between finishing rewrites and beginning edits is a good time to do so. If not, I would suggest setting your manuscript aside for a week or so again before making a couple of read throughs. This will once again give you time to clear your mind and take a step back from the story, thus preventing your mind's autocorrect from overwriting the things you hope to find and correct.
The last time you went through your manuscript, you were looking for the big issues. This time around, you need to still keep those things in mind to make sure they were fixed, but you should be ready to start looking at the details: phrasing, typos, redundant text, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice. These things might be small, but lots of errors sprinkled throughout your work can add up to a big problem. You want to clear your text of all the errors you can find. Otherwise, they can distract your readers from the story.
That's a lot of stuff to keep in mind. How can I remember it all?
I tend to just read through with a highlighter and pen, marking whatever jumps out at me or that I'm not sure about. This works for me, but I'm aware I'm a bit of an oddity in this. I'm not sure if it's a product of my "faulty wiring" or just a quirk, but for me, language reads like music. Grammatical errors, poor word choice, and awkward phrasing "sound off" like notes played out of key. It's not a perfect method by any means, but it's what has always worked for me.
My husband is the only beta reader I've actively spoken with about their process, and he's an excellent beta. He has developed a double read method, and it's one I would recommend. While more time consuming, it's methodical, effective, and a technique anyone can use. First he reads through the story just to see how it reads. If there are any issues with the big picture, the story as a whole, this is when he finds and makes note of them. Once he has finished the big picture reading, he goes back through the text with an eye for grammar, spelling, and word choice. Once again, he marks errors found as he goes.
Two read throughs work for him being part of an editing team, but if you are working on your own, more times through the work may be necessary. Use your best judgement.
What if I'm not so good with grammar or spelling?
Never forget writing is a craft as much as it is an art. You wouldn't expect a welder or plumber to grab a toolbox and start building or repairing on instinct and inspiration alone. The same is true for any art form. Painters have techniques and differing tools they must study and practice with to master their craft. Words and grammar are ours. If you aren't the best with spelling or following grammatical rules, study them.
I'm sorry, but there are no short cuts. Dictionaries, thesauruses, grammar text books, and Google in a pinch are useful tools, but without at least a basic understanding of the rules going in, you'll end up with a mess. Study grammar, but also make a habit of reading. The more you read well written books, the better your own writing will become. Reading classics and as many novels or short stories in your genre that you can get your hands on is like sitting at the feet of the authors you admire. Once you begin reading with a basic knowledge of what goes into writing, you start to see not just the story but how it was crafted, and this can help you.
Spending years devouring one book after the next was not only how I went from being two grade levels behind to two ahead in three years, but it's how I began to "hear the music" of the English language. I picked up the patterns in tense, subject/verb agreement, and punctuation via osmosis as I enjoyed the stories.
As for spelling, I'm not sure I can help. This is one place being dyslexic has hit me the hardest. I spell by muscle memory as a way to bypass the "faulty wiring" in the sequencing center of my brain. It works most of the time, especially when I'm feeling well and typing, but I don't trust myself all that much. I use a combination of multiple spell checks, dictionaries, and betas as often as possible to try and catch as many mistakes as I can.
That's it. While time consuming and tedious, the editing and proofreading phases of the writing process are simple. Go through your work multiple times, find mistakes, and correct them. There's nothing more to say besides this one last point.
Do not skip editing or proofreading your work! You will regret it if you do. No one is so good they can get away with not editing or proofreading what they write, no one!
Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions or comments, please join in the conversation below. Please come back and join me again next week as I give a few pointers on proofreading your manuscript before we begin discussing publication routes.
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