To me the process of starting to write a book has always been easy. It’s getting to the finish line that can be rough. When I am beginning, characters and situations jump into my head and I start writing. This might go on for pages and pages and often it does. But sometimes the story runs out of steam after only a few chapters and I end up just setting it aside for later. Too often later never comes. But sometimes I find stories that I started out years ago and never finished. Usually, that happens when I am clearing out old notebooks and I pick up one that has a story beginning. Or, as happened this week, I discover them when I am clearing out an old computer to put my files onto a new one.
Why bother with old stories when there are so many new ones out there waiting to be written, you might ask. Well, sometimes it is good to read over those old stories for several reasons. You might find some of them could actually be finished. I even found some old scenes that I had set aside from a book that I have now turned into a series. I am working on the third installment and I now have some new scenes I can re-work to go into my new story.
But there are other reasons for looking over some of those older manuscripts. I can see some of the editing problems I have since corrected over the years or fixed in newer manuscripts. As I read through the stories some other obvious mistakes jumped out at me and made me immediately want to pull up my newest stories onto my screen to make certain I wasn’t still making some of the same mistakes.
Let’s face it, we almost all have those habits we fall into in our writing that we need to fix before sending off for publication. With very few exceptions I can’t imagine any work coming out of the computer ready for an editor or agent or publication without a final editing job.
Recently I was in a chatroom with editors from a publishing house and the writers asked about why manuscripts get rejected. The overwhelming response was that too often authors sending in their work without that final polish, with sloppy punctuation or grammar that could be fixed with just one more read through.
What are some of the other problems that can be fixed with a final edit? Well, as I mentioned, when I was looking through those old manuscripts, I found that I had certain crutch words that I used too many times. Once I identify a crutch word that I am using I put it on a list and when I make my final edits I put those words into a search on the edit function and check through the manuscript to find wherever I use them.
That’s easy enough to do, but the editors also mentioned another problem they see: predictable writing. Sometimes we not only fall into the trap of crutch words, but we also get lost in our writing. We end up using the same sentence construction or our characters from our current took might sound suspiciously like characters from a past book. As a reader, I love to read mystery series and there are certain writers I really enjoy. But too often I find even some of these best-selling authors writing book after book with very similar sentences or setting the scene much the same, book after book. We want readers to enjoy our writing and our stories but we also want to bring them fresh circumstances and different ways of looking at things from story to story. We want some unpredictability. We don’t want the current story to sound just like the last one with only a change in circumstances and characters. This is another problem that can be found through a good and thorough job of editing.
For me, editing has always played an important part in writing a story. It isn’t finished and ready to go out the door until it has received that final polish. Every story, no matter how good, can always use a final run through. Perhaps that is why some of those stories I found in that old computer never saw the light of day. Some of them still needed to be edited or finished. I learned the value of editing as a journalist who seldom let a story leave my typewriter or computer without a final read through or edit and that was working with a time deadline constantly hanging over my head.
In a couple of weeks, I will be teaching a Savvy class on the editing process. We will not only look at what writers need to know to conduct a proper edit but how to do it in a way that keeps you constantly moving forward from the beginning and to keep finishing those stories – yes, even those that you might be tempted to ignore or put aside. There are lessons to be learned from going over your old work. I am currently finishing a couple of those newly discovered stories from the past.
Becky will be presenting Let’s Edit! Putting the Finishing Touches on Your Story at SavvyAuthors starting August 7.
Becky Martinez is a published fiction and non-fiction author who spent 30+ years in broadcast journalism. She currently writes romance, mystery and suspense novels, as Rebecca Grace, including a series set in the broadcast world, Blues at 11. She also regularly teaches writing classes and presents workshops on plotting, character development, and other facets of the writing process. Her latest series of non-fiction books, the “Let’s Write a Story” series is available at Amazon.
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Kimberly Delagarza is a familiar face in Los Angeles as she can be seen nightly on the evening news. She drives a fancy car, lives in a house on the beach and wears designer clothes. But the TV anchorwoman has been accused of murder No one believes she didn’t kill her louse of an ex-boyfriend after he dumped her. Her next picture may be on a wanted poster, and her home may be The Big House and she may soon be wearing an orange prison jumpsuit.
Can Kimberly catch a cagey killer who will stop at nothing to bring her down?