Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to Write a Book: Part 4


Welcome to Part 4 of my series on how to write a book. If you've stuck with me this far, you'll have used the information in Part 1 to have developed a fully formed idea and approach for your book. You'll have drafted up a great outline which will be a dynamic blueprint for your book after reading Part 2. And finally, you'll have started the hard work of writing your actual book following Part 3. As I had stated in Part 3, the best way to go about the actual writing part of your book is to simply WRITE IT. Format it as you go, but worry about editing and correcting all of your mistakes at a later date. Well, once you've finally finished writing the first draft of your book, it's on to the next stage of the process. And even if you're not finished writing and won't be for a while, please continue reading so that you can start thinking about the next step, at least in the back of your mind. It's probably the least looked-forward-to part of the entire process but is definitely one of the most important. That's right, I'm talking about:

PART 4: READ AND EDIT YOUR MANUSCRIPT, AND REPEAT AS NECESSARY

Just like your teachers always told you in high school, once you're done writing your first draft, you need to go through it and read it carefully to correct any spelling or grammatical mistakes. Beyond that, however, reading what you've written is a great way to tighten up, improve, remove, and change around passages and sections of your writing as you see fit. Many times, what seemed good while you were writing it reveals itself to be clunky or disruptive to the flow once you've re-read it. Additionally, there may be sections you'll want to flesh out, add to, or improve upon and a fresh read of your manuscript will help you notice this.

Don't leave any page of that manuscript unturned!

For me personally, when I go back and read over what I've written, I first look for spelling and grammar errors (helped along by built-in spellchecking, of course!). Be extra vigilant when you're doing your proofreading because oftentimes you'll have misspelled a word but that misspelled word is itself another word that is correct and thus won't be picked up by your spellchecker (ie "form" and "from," "no" and "on," etc.). The reason I suggest you do this extra carefully is because the same reasons your spellcheck won't pick these up also makes it easy for your eyes to miss these words.  As for whether you do this on your computer or not, it's entirely up to you. Personally, I like to print out my manuscripts and go through them with a pen to mark any errors, as well as circle clunky passages. (If you're worried about how many pages it is and how much ink you'll use, go to a printing center like Staples, for example...it's usually pretty cheap and they've got loads of paper and ink so you won't have to worry about your own stock of them at home).  It's also a great way to leave yourself comments or reminders in the margins so that when you go back through and make your corrections, you'll remember what you were thinking about. Have fun with this and don't be afraid to mark up that manuscript draft! Think of it this way: the more you mark it up, the more stuff that needs fixing you've found, which is never a bad thing!

Once you think you've got all of the spelling and grammar errors ironed out in this first read-through, I recommend going through your manuscript again and reading it to see how it flows, how the sentences and paragraphs are constructed, and whether what you've written makes sense and conveys what you intended. Something you've written that seemed great while you were elbow-deep in the act of writing can come across as clunky and disjointed when you read it back afterward. Alternatively, some bits that seem unimportant during the writing process can end up being really impactful, especially with a little beefing up during the editing process. I often find that if I read particularly troublesome passages out loud, it helps me listen to how the words are put together, whether it flows well or not, and how I can change it so that what I'm trying to express comes across better. This is a little technique that I highly recommend if you find yourself stuck in one of these spots! Figuring out which parts of your book need tightening up, fixing them, and then reading how much better they are after is a great feeling and really helps to keep you positively motivated as you work through your book. And hopefully, as you mark up your manuscript, you'll notice that it's got much less ink on it with each successive editing session!

My last piece of advice for Part 4 is to do it more than once! It's very easy for your eyes and your brain to miss something, especially since you've been staring at it for so long during the writing process. It's usually good to read through your manuscript at least a few times to catch anything you may have missed in the previous read-throughs. So as to avoid mental fatigue and errors slipping through the cracks, I try to limit it to one read-through per day, although taking a little more time in between wouldn't hurt at all. If you try to read it over and over too close together, it will all begin to blend together and your mind's eye will almost certainly miss some very obvious errors that will make their way through this part of the process. Trust me, my first book was plagued with little nagging errors even after what must have been the TEN read-throughs I did because I tried to do them over and over in quick succession without giving my mind and eyes a chance to rest. I learned my lesson and altered the approach for my second book to the one I've laid about above and it ended up working out much better for me and my book! 

That being said, there will almost certainly be errors or clumsy passages in your book, but don't sweat it...we'll take care of those in a forthcoming part of the process, which I'll cover at a later date. For now, do the best you can, clean up as many errors as you can, and remember that until the very moment that you're holding your finished, published book in your hand, it will remain a work in progress, and a work that you will have the ultimate control over. If you keep that in mind and realize that, try as you might, you can't be perfect and catch every mistake, this should be a relatively painless and perhaps slightly enjoyable part of the process. 

(As always, I'd love to hear any experiences my fellow writers have had in the comments below.  Do you have any helpful editing tricks or techniques you'd like to share? I welcome any questions, discussions, or comments below!)

ONCE YOU'RE FINISHED, HERE'S PART 5

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