Getting It Right

Getting It Right

I’ve just finished writing a novel. It was hard work, and took more than a year. That’s fast, considering that my earlier books took anywhere from three to ten years to complete. But after creating the story, the hardest job in getting across the finish line is making corrections.

No one writes clean copy the first time around, and no computer tool designed to check grammar and spelling can catch all the errors. Patient human labor is the only element that will ensure a nearly perfect final copy. Even then, errors persist, to be caught by a good friend who may say, “How could you have missed that typo on the first page of your novel?” The worst of such experiences was when another friend once said, “I noticed that in the sentence at the bottom of page 20 you mentioned an event that hadn’t happened yet.” Fortunately I was able to fix that one before the book was listed on Amazon.com.

I have three rules for approaching the final state of perfection, though I know I’ll never get there.

Rule #1: when you finish a work, I put it in a drawer (literally or figuratively) for at least two weeks—a month if possible. That insures that you will come back to it with fresh eyes, and errors small and large will jump out at you.

Rule #2: hire a good proofreader. Professional rates may seem high, so if you can find a smart, literate, detail-oriented friend, it’s worth paying as much as $3/page. There are other formulas for setting a price on proofreading, but this one has worked for me. Be assured that even the best proofreader will miss a couple of goofs.

Rule #3: Before sending off the final proof to be printed and distributed, read the whole work ALOUD. This insures that you will read every word, and it always turns up issues like faulty time sequences, spelling errors, and what I call “infelicities,” word usage that is almost but not quite right, and sentence structure that is awkward and clunky.

We all have our treasured ways of insuring a clean piece of work, but if you think you need the discipline of written rules, these are yours for the taking.