I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to post again, dear blog followers and droppers by! I’ve been deep, deep into editing mode. One of the things I do as an agent is to read my clients’ manuscripts with an eye toward polishing them to a high sheen before submitting them to editors. I fix obvious problems and make a LOT of suggestions in the margins. And then I write an editorial letter and send it all back to the author.
A suggestion that I invariably end up making (well, 9 times out of 10) is that the author should either read the manuscript out loud or even better, have someone else read it out loud to them. I want them to get down to hearing just the words that are down on the paper. When you hear something read out loud, without inflection, you can hear if the words are doing their job. And when you listen to your own words, read by somebody else, you are more apt to hear where something isn’t working.
I invite all writers to do the same. Have someone read your work to you. Take a pad and write down when something isn’t working, when it sounds “off,” or inauthentic. Pretend they’re not your words. Ask yourself, as you listen, if your characters sound like themselves. They should sound the way you imagined them, even when someone else is reading them to you. Notice, as you listen, whether you’re bored or excited or worried or afraid or cracking up as you hear the words you’ve written.
How do you check whether your writing is working?
This past weekend I was deep into a line edit of one of my client’s manuscripts. This is my third time reading it and my first marking it up. The first read was a “Do I want to represent this person and this manuscript?” The second read was a “Where is this manuscript working and not working so I can tell the client the direction I think it needs to go.” This last pass is with a razor sharp red pencil (ok, it’s really with Track Changes, but…). I’m looking for any word that shouldn’t be in there or isn’t working; dialogue that needs smoothing; faulty sentence construction; plot inconsistencies; pacing problems; difficulties maintaining voice or perspective; anything that isn’t working even a little bit.
Although I have moments when I get self-conscious as I’m editing (after all, who the hell am I to tell another writer to change a single word?!) I’ve found that a. I’m actually pretty damn good at it and, b. my authors are usually grateful. I’m a hands-on agent. My grimy little fingers are all over these manuscripts, pushing and pulling and poking and prodding and plotting and primping them, in partnership with my clients. When editors get my clients’ manuscripts I like to know there was nothing else I personally could do to help make that manuscript the best it could be.
But let me tell you something, editing is extremely draining. I put so much brain power into it I’m exhausted when I stop. But you already knew that, right? Because you are doing the same thing when you are revising your manuscript, right? Before you send it out with a query to agents, right? I thought so. I knew you were looking at every word. Every sentence. Every angle and point of view and piece of dialogue.
Who reads your work for you? Do you have people you can trust to be brutally honest?