QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, July 2, 2012

How to Polish Your Writing Until It Shines

By Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL

Your manuscript has done the rounds with your critique partners and beta readers, and you’ve made the necessary changes. Before you are ready to query, you need to put your project through an additional polish or two. Why? Because everyone (including yourself) might have still missed a few typos, misplaced words, and confusing sentences. It happens, but it’s best to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

There are several things you can do to help you see the mistakes:

1.  Give your manuscript distance
This is the standard suggestion for any of your drafts, not just the final one. After you’ve read your manuscript so many times, it helps when you give it space for at least a few days. The longer the break the better. By giving it distance, you might discover other weaknesses your beta readers missed.

2.  Use an editing software program

A software program like SmartEdit will point out problems you and your critique partners missed. These include adverb abuse, clich├ęs, and crutch words and phrases. The beauty of these programs is that they tell you how many times you’ve used these things in your manuscript. This way you know if it’s a problem or not. 

Often when we read our manuscripts, it’s easy to miss the –ly adverbs we’ve used that could be cut to make the sentence stronger. This program will save you from developing a headache while combing through your manuscript, searching for them. All you need to do is consult the adverb list generated by the program and use the Word Find function to location them in your manuscript.

One disadvantage of the programs is it’s easy to edit your voice out by trying to change everything. The other disadvantage is that the list the program generates is extremely long. You can’t change everything, and you’ll drive yourself insane if you try. When it comes to the phrases and crutch words, focus on those that seem to be a problem based on the excessive number of times they are used or by their uniqueness. The more unusual the word or phrase, the more noticeable it will be when used more than once.

3.  Change the format 

Reading your manuscript with an e-Reader is another way to spot errors you might miss when reading it off the computer screen. Because your eyes are seeing it in a different way than normal, the brain is less likely to fool you into believing something is there when it isn’t. For example, you know the sentence you wrote is supposed to say: Kira sat on the edge of the lake and gazed at her reflection. But in reality it says: Kira sat on the edge of the lake and gazed her reflection. Did you catch the missing word? Sometimes when you read through your manuscript you find the mistakes, and sometimes no one sees them. At least no one until you query. You can guarantee agents will spot them, and if it happens too often, your manuscript will probably be rejected.

Unfortunately, you need an e-Reader that allows you to transfer your manuscript onto it to do this trick. You can also try turning the manuscript into a PDF file and reading it that way.

Another trick you can try is change the font. This too helps you spot those typos and missing words you might otherwise not notice. 

4.  Read it backwards

Start at the final sentence of your manuscript and read it out loud. Then read the one before it. It really does work. When you read your manuscript in chronological order, your brain starts paying more attention to what you wrote than how you wrote it. If you wrote a story, you’re often paying attention to what happens next. Not so when you read it backwards. Read each sentence slowly and point to each word, then ask yourself if it makes sense. Sometimes it needs the sentence in front of it for it to work. Other times you’ll realize you need to fix the sentence to make it clearer. 

After you’ve made the changes to a sentence, read the paragraph to make sure the change does work. Sometimes the original sentence is stronger than the tweaked one when the entire paragraph is taken into consideration.

5.  Listen to it

You can listen to your manuscript (as a PDF file or on Notepad) while reading along with a hard copy. This is a great way of hearing when you have missing words, typos, and awkward sentences. Also, read your manuscript out loud. This technique will help you find awkward sounding sentences and dialogue.

What tricks do you use to polish your manuscript?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes young adult novels. In her spare time, she’s a photographer and blogging addict, and can be found hanging out on her blog, Seeing Creative.  


Miranda Hardy said...

All great advice! I haven't read it backwards, but I think I'll start.

Raul Colon said...

Great advice in one blog post! Will be keeping this blog post as a reference. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Now that I have an e-Reader, I'll try that for my next major edit. My go-to method is to print pages out and read with a pen in my hand, letting the pen hover over every word. It forces me to catch those missing beats.

PK HREZO said...

Excellent advice, Stina! I also read chapters at random to focus on each one as individual scenes instead of part of the big picture.

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

Wow, I never thought of reading it backward. What a fabulous idea!

Unknown said...

This is brilliant advice. Reading your book backwards AND listening to your manuscript is a fabulous idea. This evening I'm going to read aloud my sitcom piece and then listen to it. I know I'll sound silly but I think it'll be amazing to see how well it works!

Margo Rowder said...

Agreed on all counts! Great post, Stina.

I've always read my own work aloud as a last step in my revision process. But many agents and editors recommend having *someone else* read your work to you.

After discussing this with an author friend (Kat Yeh) recently, we decided it should be easier to find this sort of help.

Enter Readers Aloud, a free, open exchange group (on Facebook) designed to pair willing voices with revising writers. We've only been around for a week, but already we have 45 members and 3 active projects!


Our readers and writers would love it if you'd help us spread the word. :)

To kick things off, we're giving away a 3-chapter read to one new member.
Enter here! bit.ly/LzVkuM

Anyone can come on over and join – I'll trade ya a chapter! :)

Amy Jarecki said...

All good advice - thanks for posting!

Leslie S. Rose said...

The reading backwards strategy is brand new to me. I can't wait to try it.

Anonymous said...

I've read portions of my MS backwards and have to admit it really helps to see it from another perspective.

Stina said...

Thanks everyone.

Note: Two followers have let me know that their virus protection software won't allow them to download SmartEdit. This is a recent issue. I use the same security software and it didn't have an issue with it at the time I downloaded the program. Fortunately there are other similar programs you can use. Unfortunately they aren't free.