They say misery loves company, and we all know they're right (whoever 'they' are). So right now, since I'm miserable--and I'm miserable because I'm still in the editing process even though I thought I was done--I feel akin to the many, many writers out there who are editing and/or polishing their manuscripts.
With that being said, I'd like to introduce fellow writer and guest blogger (and recent book winner) L.J. Stephens. Stephens has just finished the first draft of his Y.A. Urban Fantasy novel and is now heading into the editing stage. Of course, I feel elated for him, but I also feel something else--dread. After all, editing is hard work...emphasis on the word 'work.' But it's not impossible work, so let's return to the first word 'elated' and stay with it. Yes, I feel elated for L.J. Stephens as he moves into the editing stage because he is nearing the finishing line. I hear the crowd cheering already.
Death by Editing
I have been a writer all of my life. As a hobby since I was old enough to string words together, as a freelancer since 2008, and as a novelist since this weekend when I typed "The End" for the first time on a novel. I was ecstatic. It was 2 am and I can't tell you how hard it was to resist the temptation to wake up my wife and tell her the great news. That feeling stayed with me until I remembered that it was time to move on to the editing phase of the writing process. Don't get me wrong, I am still happy and proud of myself for finishing a novel (something that many people want to do, but not many actually follow through with), but even though I have accomplished something that I have always dreamed of doing, I realized that there was much more to my dream than simply "writing a novel." I don't just want to be a novelist, I want to be a published novelist, and that will require more work.
Whether I decide to self-publish my novel or start to submit to agents and publishers, my work will have to be as near to perfect as possible. The alternative is having a novel full of errors floating around the Internet or ruining my chances of signing with an agent or publisher after they've read it. The future of my novel, and my career, may depend on the editing that I'm doing now. No pressure, right? What makes this more difficult is that I am extremely impatient. (And a little lazy)
One of the things I learned through self publishing my short story is that editing is hard to do well. (Which is probably why there are people who get paid to do it.) I read through my short story, Just Enough, at least ten times, and still I found errors after it was published. And that was just 9600 words! Imagine how many errors could slip through in a novel length manuscript. Just the thought of an agent tossing my manuscript in the trash after too many typos makes my palms sweaty. I could hire an editor to look at it for me, which I will probably do anyway, but even professional editors can miss things and it is a good idea to self-edit even before you give it to a real editor. My thought is that the less errors there are when the editor gets it, the less likely something will slip through unnoticed.
So, how do I make sure that I catch as many problems as possible before I release my manuscript out into the world? One piece of advice that I have gotten is to edit backwards. When you read through your work, it is all too easy for your eyes to glide smoothly over things like "are" instead of "our" or "then" instead of "than." I've also found that I sometimes see what I thought I wrote, and not what is actually on the page. But, by editing backwards, starting with the last sentence and working forward, your brain will not as easily forgive these small errors. I'm no pro, but it makes perfect sense to me.
With all of the pressure I have put on myself to have my novel perfect, how do I keep from staying in an endless loop of self editing? I can easily see myself struggling for years to try to get everything "just right." Where is the line between sending out my manuscript too soon and over editing, never allowing my novel to see the light of day? And how long will it take me to find that happy medium? We all know that writing is rewriting, but at some point I will have to put down the red pen. I just hope I don't do it too soon.