So You Wrote A Novel! Now What?
Yes, you really did write a novel, but let’s face it, what you have is a rough, first draft. The creative conception of your novel is a done deal, but your book is far from ready to publish.
Now it’s time to let your inner editor back out of its cage and put it back to work. Now is when you get down to the nitty-gritty of rewrites, proofreading, and editing, all of which must be accomplished before you can even think about getting your masterpiece ready to submit to a publisher for consideration.
Let’s talk about some of the tools you’ll need to begin taking your novel to the next stage.
Your Next Steps
Your first draft is the block of marble from which your final product will be carved. Michelangelo is said to have been asked how it was possible to find something as grand as “The Madonna” in a raw block of granite. His reply was, “Simple. You just carve away everything that does not look like The Madonna.”1
We urge you to remember these words, carve them on your heart and in your mind. Then learn to see your writing with the eyes of a master artist. The early draft of your work is the rough, chopped lump of marble. When you finish your first draft, you’ve done nothing more than create the rough lump of granite from which your final masterpiece will emerge. Now, you must chip at it, and sand it, and polish it, until it shines like the brilliant star you imagined in the beginning.
Every good writer learns and understands that there are many steps in the process of writing a novel before one achieves a Masterpiece.
If you haven’t already discovered your own style and method for proofreading and editing now is the best time to get started doing so.
Proofreading Your Work
Can you read this? Take a few minutes and try. I think you’ll be surprised. It really isn’t all that hard.
i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!2
It is amazing how the human brain works. Unfortunately, the very capacity that enables you to read the above piece of mish-mash is your enemy when it comes to proofreading, especially so when proofreading your own work.
You know what you’ve written, and your mind has a tendency to skip over many basic spelling and punctuation errors.
The first thing you should always do is run your computer’s spell check and grammar check programs. They will target many of your errors. But, your computer program does not know every accepted spelling, nor all accepted meanings for every word in the English language, so you can’t stop there. Grab a good dictionary and double check every word you thought was spelled and/or used right that your computer flagged.
Next go through your piece, chapter by chapter, and really look at each and every individual word to make sure you have the correct spelling for the meaning you are using in that context. One of the easier ways to do this, without allowing your brain to skip ahead, and miss things is to start at the end and go through each chapter backward, from ending to beginning. Because the sentences don’t make sense backward your brain and your eye will be less likely to slip ahead. You will be more likely to spot sneaky little spelling boo-boos waiting to ambush you and embarrass you in front of your editor or publisher.
This step covers your spelling and most punctuation errors.
Next, you need to go back and read each of your chapters for grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies. Don’t just sit and read them to yourself. As in spelling, here too your brain will have a tendency to skip forward and fill in the things you know you meant to put in there—even when they are missing!
Go somewhere where you won’t bother anyone or be interrupted. Take the time to read each chapter out loud. Again go slow and read your piece word for word as it is on paper—not how you intended it to be—but exactly as it is written down. You will be surprised at how many things you missed when you checked for spelling or sat and read the piece silently to yourself.
Now ask someone else to read your chapters out loud to you. Don’t interrupt them, but as they read make notes on any errors you hear.
Repeat the above steps as many times as needed, until you are sure you found all of the problem areas.
Just proofreading isn’t enough to bring your work to that final point of perfection. Once the proofreading is done you must go back and correct the errors, remove the inconsistencies, reweave the weak areas, and trim away all un-needed extraneous material that does not move your story forward.
Wordiness is a common problem for prose writers. It’s important not to “clog up” your prose with extra words, phrases, or paragraphs that aren’t necessary to move your story forward. Following is a list of methods you can use to eliminate wordiness in your writing.
♥ Convert word groups or phrases to single words whenever possible.
♥ Convert modifying clauses into phrases or single words whenever possible.
♥ Use expletives sparingly, if at all.
♥ Use active instead of passive verbs.
♥ Avoid using too many noun forms of verbs.
♥ Write infinitive phrases as finite verbs or brief noun phrases
♥ Eliminate circumlocutions with direct phrases. For example: change At this point in time to Now.
♥ Omit words which state the obvious or provide excessive detail. Remember: If a second grader can understand it, you have explained it.
♥ Omit repetitive wording.
Making your writing crisp, precise, and concise will move your story forward at a steady pace and help keep your reader engaged.
Rewriting and Editing
There are a number of different ways to go about the rewriting and editing process. Let me warn you here—none of them are easy. Rewriting and editing is time intensive, hard work. It doesn’t really matter which method you use as long as you buckle down and do the work.
Take the notes you made during the times the piece was read out loud. Then go through the entire novel line by line, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter. Rewrite every single poorly formed sentence, every paragraph that isn’t clear, and every action that does not move your plot forward. Eliminate anything that is not absolutely necessary to tell the story in a clear and concise manner.
Do this over and over until you feel you have each chapter as close to perfect as you can get it.
There are numerous writing resource books on the market that explore proofreading as well as editing and polishing. You should have at least two different resource books in your personal writing reference library in addition to your dictionary and thesaurus: one on writing style and basic grammar, and one on rewriting and editing. There is a list of my favorites in the Printed Resources section at the end of this article. Check them out and then go find those that suit you the best.
One last thought . . .
As writers, we all have a tendency to become attached to our precious written words. For proper editing and rewriting you cannot cling to them. I had an instructor once who said, “Until you are ready to ‘murder your darlings’ you will never be a good writer.” So I repeat here if you want to do a good rewrite and reach perfection you must “Murder your darlings!” But never worry! Even better words and phrases will rise up and live to take their place – if you work hard!
Now pull out those reference books. Get out that red pen. Warm up your DELETE key. It’s time to go to work – line by line, page by page, and chapter by chapter!
♥ The Owl at Perdue – Free Writing Help and Teaching Resources
♥ Fiction Factor – Honing Skills
♥ Painful Prose: How to Edit Your Paragraphs to Make Them Great
Resources In Print
♥ Write Right – A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar and Style by Jan Venolia Publisher: Ten Speed Press Berkeley ♦ Toronto Date: 2001
♥ The Elements of Expression by Arthur Plotnik Publisher: Henry Holt and Company New York, New York Date: 1996 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-elements-of-expression-arthur-plotnik/1110796062
♥ ReWrite Right – Your Guide to Perfectly Polished Prose by Jan Venolia Publisher: Ten Speed Press Berkeley ♦ Toronto Date: 2000 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/rewrite-right-jan-venolia/1004089614
♥ Getting the Words Right How to Rewrite, Edit & Revise by Theodore A. Rees Cheney Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books Cincinnati, Ohio Date: 1990
New and used copies of all the above books listed in this Resource Guide are available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and/or Alibris.com.
Author’s Note: I learned many of the ideas and methods shared in this article through the years in college classes I took, from online reading and classes, and from participation in several different writers’ and critique groups. I’m sorry I can’t give full credit to the originators of some of the techniques and ideas I shared here. Unfortunately, I don’t remember exactly who you are, but I know you share my passion for helping others improve their writing and I hope you don’t mind that I’m passing on what you so generously shared with me.
1 I believe this quote came from the book. Vasari on Technique by Georgio Vasari, Published by J.M. Dent & Company, London 1907
2 Can You Read This? by Green Chair Marketing Group
© Copyright 2016 Katzendragonz (katzendragonz at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Sarah Elizabeth is also known as “Katz” around the online writing world.
As a young child she made up stories for her friends and told them like an old time story teller. She first started writing her tales down in grade school. In Junior High School she won an award for and published her first fantasy story.
Several of her stories and poems have been published in fantasy fan publications over the years. She’s written three novels, one science fiction and two that are a cross between classic fantasy and alternative history. She also has four additional fantasy novels currently in progress.
She spent two years tutoring all types of writing while taking courses at Southern California ‘s Fullerton College in the late 1990’s.
Sarah now teaches fiction writing online with New Horizons Academy. She’s developed and instructed courses in Grammar, Short Story Writing, Novel Writing, basic Fiction Concepts, and Character Creation and Development.
Every year in November she participates in National Novel Writing Month and has been working with the organization for ten years guiding and mentoring harried, exhausted novelists through the process of writing an entire novel (at least 50,000 words) in thirty days.