Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Keep Your Distance

It’s hard to be objective about my writing. I find it a lot easier to pick out errors when I critique someone else’s manuscript than my own. Sometimes I disregard what I know is right, thinking I can break a rule once. The trouble is, once leads to twice and more. It becomes a hard-to-break habit, which often I don’t realize I’m doing.

One example is using too many adjectives. The first edit of my recent release, the romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams, turned up tons of adjectives which needed to be eliminated. I knew better.

I was also horrified to discover many instances of the word “that” which had crept into my manuscript. How mortifying!

The mind and the eyes can play tricks. Mine are adept at correcting the spelling of a word by inserting a missing letter or cutting one off. Such a gift is well and good when reading for pleasure, but a huge drawback when editing for publication.

I’ve found a few ways to combat these problems.

One is the dimension of time. By putting my manuscript aside for a month or if that’s not possible, even a week, helps me see my manuscript at a distance, almost as if it’s someone else’s.

Another is the dimension of space. I hand my manuscript over to someone else to edit, but make sure it’s someone whose opinion I trust. When I get it back, I need to objectively consider the problem points the other person has noticed. Doing so isn’t always easy, because my writing is a part of me and I hate to find anything wrong with it. I have to remind myself to keep my distance by leaving my emotions out of it.

You may want to consider a few of these techniques yourself. If you have any other methods of keeping your distance from your manuscript, I invite you to write a comment below.
Morgan Mandel, is the author of Two Wrongs, a Chicago area mystery, and Girl of My Dreams, a romantic comedy about a reality show contestant.


  1. Most of us are better at catching other people's mistakes than catching our own. These tips are useful in doing a better job of catching our own.

  2. As I was polishing the manuscript for The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, I had a typo in the Word search field and inadvertently discovered that I had used the word "own" (as in "my own") with horrifying frequency. "Personal" was another invasive fluff word.

    But for that typo, I never would have known.

    This sort of repetition pops out at an experienced editor, but is easily overlooked by general readers. Do yourself a favor and ask any editors, volunteer or pro, to keep an eye out for this sort of thing.

  3. Morgan, you're absolutely right about the word that. I also have a weakness with had. LOL!

    I remember the first edit to my book, "The Rape of Innocence" and it wasn't pretty. I cried. There was so much red that I became depressed. It was some editing and rewriting and everything else. LOL! That's why I give editing and rewrites at least 3 months with my own work. I cry but I'm grateful for the truth. LOL!

  4. Along those lines...if you do give it to an editor and it comes back bleeding so much red it makes you want to cry, put it down. Seriously, put it face down and walk away.

    Give yourself an hour, a day, a week, however much time you need to get your breath back and remember...this is a good thing. The editor has found problems and you now have the time and chance to correct the mistakes before it goes to an agent, an editor or a publisher. You have the opportunity to polish the manuscript until it glows.

  5. What happens when an author starts revising and editing before they get all their feedback from first readers? Do you make too much work for yourself if you don't just stand back for a while, and wait for comments to roll in from a few others? And how much time creates enough distance? A month? Two? What's average?


  6. My first ms came back from the editor so marked up I thought I'd just flunked 3rd grade English - lol. But I learned a lot. The last book I finished after reading Stephen King's "On Writing" - an excellent read, and I also used Carolyn Howard Johnson's "The Frugal Editor" to self edit it before sending it into the pub's editor. Much better results this time! {-:>

    I agree with taking some time off before the rewriting and editing. You get so lost in your own work you can't really "see" it anymore. A King disciple, I try to take a month off away from it, then I get out the knife and start cutting. One of his rule of thumbs is the finished edited ms should be 10% less words than the first draft. Then I hand it to one of two close people I know who I can trust to give it to me straight. Sometimes I will rewrite even some more after the candid feedback I get.

  7. When you realize you've made a BUNCH of dumb little mistakes, then it hurts to see all those red marks from your editor.

    However, if the red marks are excellent suggestions for changes, from an excellent editor, then all
    that "blood" can give life to a much better manuscript. That's why some authors LOVE their editors.

    Suzanne Lieurance
    The Working Writer's Coach
    "When Your Pen Won't Budge, Read The Morning Nudge"

  8. I do a "find" in word for that as the last line of defense when I edit.
    Horrifying how many there are!

  9. I shudder to think of losing 10% of one of my manuscripts, like Marvin says happens.

    I have a hard enough time getting my word count up as it is. One of my problems is my inner editor works too hard. I keep telling it to go away until later.

    Morgan Mandel


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