Sounds drastic, doesn’t it? And so it is!
This is something every writer has to learn to do and it’s the hardest thing. When you first write your story or book or whatever it all feels wonderful and you’re likely sure it actually is wonderful … or at least hope it is! But it won’t be. There will be all sorts of things wrong.
First off there will be typos … there are always typos. We’re so engrossed in the writing that we don’t notice when our fingers miss a key or put in too many, or we put a semicolon where it should be a colon because we didn’t hit the shift key hard enough. Then there’s the times we wrote their instead of they’re or there, or it’s when it should be its, or any number of other mistakes it’s only too easy to make. Using spell-check is really helpful here but you do need to check as you go … the thing does sometimes suggest words which make no sense at all in the context and can be hysterically funny.
Then there’s all sorts of grammar things. These can be more complicated and often depend on the writing style; a loose, friendly, colloquial style is very different to a full academic one. One way I use to help with this is to read the piece aloud, actually out loud or aloud-in-my-head; if I stumble over a phrase or sentence I can be sure it’s wrong. It won’t work either if you find you run out of breath before you come to the end of the sentence. Even reading silently the reader will get lost and confused if the sentence is that long without adequate punctuation.
Having climbed over these two major hurdles we come to the nitty gritty, the nasty bit. As you read through your work you have to be prepared to ditch things that really don’t work or don’t move the story on at all. This is a difficult one as usually we’re pretty fond of them. Writing fiction it’s very easy to leave in a lot of back-story stuff that was vital in getting the characters and the plot rounded and working but is probably going to be dull and boring to the reader who hasn’t journeyed with you all the way there. They probably don’t care about the heroine’s grandmother’s love affair with Prince Charming; for you it was undoubtedly invaluable as you learned all about how the heroine is like she is through the history. Unless such a story is absolutely vital to the plot leave it out. This is what we mean when we talk about killing your darlings.
If you can manage to do as much of this as possible before it goes to the editor it will be far, far less painful for you. Having somebody else kill your loved ones, or even suggest killing them, tends to bring out the “you and who’s army?” in all of us. It’s also kinder to the editor too. They really aren’t the XYZ idiot you are probably calling them at the top of your voice when you get the manuscript back. And they almost certainly don’t have four left feet. And they really are trying to help you make the book as good as possible. If you do a lot of killing for yourself first you get to feel less strongly about each of the precious ones the editor makes mincemeat of and can take it better. In fact you may possibly only need a large gin to handle it when she or he suggests cutting this or that paragraph you thought was the bee’s knees.
I know. I’m absolutely terrible at hearing this kind of stuff from an editor. I need kindness and coaxing … poor editor must be wishing me at the devil! I do try to do as much of this as I can myself before sending the thing off to her.
I’m not sure it ever really gets better. It always seems to hurt. Having an editor you get on with, maybe even share an interest or two with, does help.
Ho hum! I think I’ll get the axe out and have another go at the latest manuscript …