Last Sunday I decided that I needed to toss my trepidation aside and participate in #SampleSunday. I wasn’t ready to throw my novel WIP into the ring just yet, so I thought I’d share a short story I wrote last year. Personally, I like the story, and for the most part the reviews I’ve received have been positive (though the positive feedback hasn’t been universal).
The story itself was published through Associated Content, and has been out on the web for eight months or so. Since posting it, I’ve released the story on Sojourner Mountain and
I’ve submitted it to TriggerStreet.com. To my dismay, every time I’ve released it, I’ve discovered bone-headed mistakes that simple proof-reading should have caught, but didn’t. And to add insult to injury, when I posted the story to my Short Stories tab on Sunday, I discovered a horribly awkward sentence in the teaser paragraph…the same paragraph that’s been sitting out on Associated Content for eight months. So what gives?
When the story gets close to completion, and we want to get it out the door and in front of our readers, we are contending with a perfect storm of circumstances that may blind us to basic editing mistakes:
1) We’re so familiar with the story that when we conduct the final reviews our brains tend to mask the simple errors (“its” instead of “it’s”).
2) We’re often working under either official or unofficial deadlines that ultimately drives us to cut off debate, as it were, and to send the story packing to submission.
The end result may be some embarrassing errors that at best come across as amateur, and at worst dooms the writing and sends it to the reject pile. How to get around it? There are obvious solutions that most writers probably practice. The question really is “how adequately are you practicing these?”
1) Once finished with the first draft, separate yourself from it for a period (weeks if possible, not hours). If you’re not sure what you were driving at when you look at it with fresh eyes, your readers probably won’t either. Simple typos will often jump off the page as well when you get some distance from your work.
2) Use friends, family, and writing peers to proof your work. If possible, use multiple readers. If you’re looking for help on this, a great option is TriggerStreet.com. Originally set up to allow screenplay writers the opportunity to help each other strengthen their skills, this site has since expanded to books and short stories. So now you can access a ton of beta readers who are genuinely helpful. In fact, TriggerStreet has done a lot to help me see some significant strengths and weaknesses in my writing. I highly recommend them.
3) The “extreme” option: hire a professional editor. I’ve done this for my work in progress, and the experience has so far been well worth the money. My editor doesn’t only edit, he mentors so that now I’m able to fix some bad writing habits that have haunted me for a while. I know that there are plenty of good writers out there who have such strong writing skills that this seems like an unnecessary expense, but tread carefully here. As I mentioned above, it’s easy to be blind to your own weaknesses (I have a horrible proclivity towards inserting commas far too often). And unless your friends are solid editors in their own right, you leave yourself open to keeping writing that may be technically correct but still stylistically weak and detracts from your overall story.
For my current work, I’m using all three of these of these options. I’ve learned a lot from this too, so that when I get to editing my next WIP, I think I’ll have my editing effort a little more streamlined.
So that’s my thoughts. I’d love to hear how other writers approach this critical stage in our craft. Please leave a comment if you’ve got suggestions or thoughts on this.
Oh yeah…and if you find any typos or mistakes in this article…they’re all meant to be ironic.
Excellent article! A must read for any aspiring author. I agree with your advice – I think the best thing a writer can do after completing his or her work is to STEP AWAY for a while. The reading brain fills in a lo of gaps and errors on work you’ve already written, so you need that time away to ‘reset’ and see it with fresh eyes. I waited a solid month after completing my novel before ever going back to it, and I found TONS of tiny mistakes (repeating an adjacent word, and for an, all the things spell-check doesn’t pick up).
And after going back and proofing it yourself? Give it to someone else, even if it’s your mother, sister, brother, whatever. A second set of eyes is invaluable.
Thanks for the kudos and the advice Steve. I defintely agree. My wife reads everything I write, and she’s caught tons of oversights.
Good points all! I run everything through autocrit: http://www.autocrit.com/index.php
They also have a free tool for short pieces I recommend all bloggers try.
For my manuscript I have 3 BETA readers, all with different strengths, and am considering bartering/hiring a line editor for a final go through. For me it’s not so hard to admit to needing a BETA; I can hardly spell my own name and have never learned the proper use of a comma. I have a blog post about my grammatical foibles here if you’re interested: http://pavarti.blogspot.com/2011/02/notes-to-writers-i-before-e-except.html
Have a great day 🙂
Wow, thanks a lot for the comment. I’m going to take a look at autocrit this evening…looks very interesting. I plan on soliciting a number of beta readers in the near future as well. I really like your strategy.
You need to proofread. I usually do a once-through of proofreading then hand it off to someone else to read. Most typos are found this way.