Most of us believe that what we read is what we wrote. That’s not always true.
Sometimes what we read is what's in our head.
We write a chapter or passage, we read it, we make changes, we polish it, we give it to our critique group. They read it and bleed red all over it or can't make sense of it. How is that possible?
I'm not talking about the big picture here -- the reader doesn't understand the motivation of a character or his or her arc, or maybe you've described a setting and the reader can't picture that setting or follow a sequence of events. I'm talking the actual words.
You get the piece back from your critique group or a reader and you're amazed to see that you left out complete words, small words like "the" and "of," big words, vital words like "eligible" or "most." Or perhaps you substituted words like "ever" for "every."
Words that you should have caught. But you didn't. Sometimes even after multiple readings.
That's because you're "reading" what you thought you wrote instead of what you actually wrote.
As the editor of your own work, how do you prevent that?
There are several things you can do. One is to put the work away for a while. That way, when you take it out to read, it's "new" to you and what you had in your head has had time to dissipate, so you're, in effect, reading it as a disconnected critiquer.
But, let's face it, not many of us have the time or desire to give each chapter or passage time to sit and simmer. We're on a roll, we're inspired, or we're taking advantage of the muse while it's visiting.
Another thing you can do that's faster than setting aside your work is to slow down.
You can still read what you wrote, getting wrapped up in the emotions and the eloquence of the words. But once you feel like it's done, it says exactly the emotions and shows the sensual experiences you intended, you're ready to really read it. Word by word, slowly, deliberately.
Sounds easy, but it may not be for you because it's not a natural way to read. Our brains insert words and letters that we know should be there, even when they're not. In order to see what we're missing, we have to slow down and read each word deliberately, preferably out loud.
May not be as much fun as when you actually wrote the words, but line editing is more about accuracy than fun. It's about perfection. Maybe you have a critique group or reader who will catch those things for you. But they can get as tired of bleeding red as you do in getting back the marked up pages. And if you don't have a reader to catch those things, you better catch them yourself. Most agents won't overlook these mistakes; they'll overlook the entire manuscript.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and writer. You can visit her website and blog, follow her on Twitter, or join her newsletter, Doing It Write.