Step 4: Edit and proofread.Only after I've completed one or two revisions and have judged a work "good enough" (because it will never be perfect) do I turn my attention to editing and proofreading.
As I wrote in "Every writer needs an editor," when it came time to edit and proofread my novella, I couldn't trust myself to do it. My head was so much in it that I stopped seeing what was on the page. I noticed as I tried to read it for the billionth time that I was skipping over whole sentences or even entire paragraphs. I needed an editor's help.
A quick note on terminology here, because there are at least three kinds of editing--developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing--and then there's proofreading too. "Oh my!" I hear you say. "What's the difference?"
In a nutshell:
- Developmental editing - Helping with earlier stages of the writing process, possibly as early as idea generation up through revision.
- Line editing - Making specific suggestions (i.e. rewriting) to help with organization, clarity, fluidity, etc.
- Copy editing - Correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax; ensuring manuscript follows conventions of appropriate style guide (e.g. MLA, AP, APA, Chicago), if applicable.
- Proofreading - Seeking and destroying typos; making sure everything looks right on the page (consistent fonts, formatting, etc.).
So in this stage of the working-toward-getting-published process, what I'm referring to are the last three: line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. And I strongly recommend you get some help with this. There are professional editors like me (shameless plug!), or you can enlist the aid of a friend or relative (or two) who have strong editing and proofreading skills.
If you have strong copy editing and proofreading skills and are not in a hurry to publish, another way to get around hiring an editor is to sit on your piece for a while. Not literally, of course. What I mean is that you could put it away for a period of time and come back to it when you've more or less forgotten what you (thought you) wrote. How long--a month? three?--depends on how long it takes you to get your head out of it so you can see it objectively again. I've heard of authors putting their manuscripts away in a drawer for as many as ten years before they bring it out again.
Since I cannot yet afford to hire an editor (oh, the irony!), I used a combination of methods when it came time to edit and proofread the novella. A fellow writer and I have agreed to trade editing services, so first I sent my manuscript to him. For copy editing and proofreading only; I was clear with him that I was not open to developmental or line editing suggestions at that point in my process. He caught a couple things, which I corrected. And then I put the book away for a month. When I came back to it, I no longer found myself skipping over sentences or paragraphs. I could see the writing with a more objective eye and tend to the detail-oriented task of copy editing and proofreading myself.
To be honest, though, I'm still a bit nervous about it. I'm sure there are errors that escaped our notice. So when I can afford to hire an editor, I will. And I'll have more faith in the final product as a result.
Previous posts in this series:
Step 1: Write
Step 2: Share it
Step 3: Revise