Let's Mambo! The Art of Editing

I'm doing the self-editing mambo today. Trust me, it's not nearly as much fun as the horizontal mambo!

Let's Mambo

When I have a tedious task to perform, like editing, I try to put a funny face on the task. Right about now, you may be wondering what the self-editing mambo. That's where you dance through your manuscript, page by page, trying to spot common errors such as misspelled words, wrongly-used words, and other frequent typos, as well as inconsistencies, awkward phrasing, stilted dialog, misplaced modifiers, and so on. The problem is that it's easy to spot these problems in other writers’ work but not so easy in your own writing. Seeing a mistake is, to illustrate my answer, is a hoarse of a different choler. (Get it?)

Blind Spots

Why don't I see that I wrote: hoarse instead of horse, misspelled different, and wrote choler instead of color? Why do sentences like this appear in manuscripts: John and Mary, using there whipps, raced toward each other;, jumping on hirdles and weeping stoned fences.

A gremlin sneaks into your office at night and edits your file then prints another copy and destroys your perfect one! Sorry. I wish I could say the gremlin theory is correct, but...

In the white heat of creativity, all we are concerned with is putting words on paper as fast as our flying fingers allow. Because our brains know what the correct words are supposed to be, we are blind to anything that doesn't match the finished script in our brains. Then, we go back and revise. Then we polish. Still, we overlook typos and other errors because our brain knows what is supposed to be on the page and that’s all it sees – not what’s actually there.

Brain Is Programed

Remember in Jurassic Park where the computer is programmed to verify that (I forget the actual number, let's say 100 animals) all the animals are in the park? Well, when the animals start reproducing, the computer does not register that there are more animals. It has been told to verify that 100 are there so that is what it does even though there are now 120.

Our brains are like that. Our mental computer knows our beautiful, moving story in all its glory with reams of conflict, unforgettable characters, scintillating dialogue. When we read our copy, our brain verifies that the printed page matches what's in our head even when it doesn’t!

Others Aren't Blinded

Of course, you can show what you wrote to a writing friend who will immediately circle, in red, all the errors and then proceed to bleed all over your deathless prose, writing such phrases as: "You misspelled forty-seven words, including your own name. You have dangling participles, misplaced metaphors, and are totally lacking in scene logic. You don’t even want to know what I think about your heroine who starts out brunette and ends up a blonde without the benefit Clairol®."

So What's The Solution

What’s the answer? You can’t depend upon the kindnesses of friends all the time.

1. Develop the ability to see your own mistakes. You do this by putting time distance between you and your finished copy. A week after writing a scene, you can read it and easily see you wrote about stoned fences (were they on heroin or crack?) rather than fences made of stone.

2. Make use of a software that checks your manuscript. There are many available.

3. Hire a freelance editor.

Correct Answer

Of course, the correct answer is: all of the above.

Always allow yourself time to rest your manuscript after you complete it. After that period of rest, begin your proofing process. You’ll be amazed how the mistakes leap from the page. Complete the process with the services of a freelance editor.

Yes, you're impatient to get it on some agent or editor's desk or in the queue for self-publishing, but, trust me on this, you'll just be shooting yourself in the foot if you send it out or publish it before it's gone through the proofing process.

Takeaway Truth

Many years ago there was a commercial for wine with the tag line: "We will sell no wine before its time." (I think the sense of the vow means its time as in the state of completion when it's ready to go out into the world.)

As a writer, a similar policy is good: "We will send no manuscript before its time."