Go ahead, laugh if you want to

Today, I’m giving you valuable writing advice. It’s not original. I’d read it more than once online and off. I also ignored it. The tip was this: When you think you’ve cleaned up your manuscript as best you can—think again. Put it away, preferably for months, then read it through one more time.

As I told you, I’m in the midst of that “final” read. So far, I’ve found bits here and there to improve, a little embarrassing, but nothing major. Nothing that would have made an agent roll their eyes and fire off a form reject. Except maybe …

In an earlier draft, I had a scene where Jalal had angered and hurt Renee, so she avoided him for several days. Then they run into each other in the grocery market and he tries, unsuccessfully, to apologize. She rushes out in tears, leaving her purse and cart behind. He grabs her purse, rushes after her, and they talk in the parking lot. She drives off.

In a later draft, this scene occurs later in the story and under slightly different circumstances. Renee is still hurt and angered and avoids Jalal, but the stakes are higher for him now. Fearing he’s lost Renee forever, he desperately searches the town for her. Finally he spots her car in the market parking lot, rushes inside, finds her, tries to make things right. She’s not having it and exits, leaving her purse and cart behind. He grabs her purse, rushes after her, and they talk in the parking lot. She drives off.

Still following? Here’s where my earlier editing of the final version failed. After Renee drives away, Jalal goes back into the store, adds his things to her cart, and pays for it all.

Did you catch that? This frantic man, who ten minutes earlier had run into the market, desperate to find this woman, had apparently browsed through the aisles and picked up a few items before he bothered looking for her!

I realize this ridiculous error is an artifact from the previous version, when they were both shopping and accidentally met. But it should have been edited out during the last revision. It’s evidence of sloppy editing. I can’t say for sure how I managed to miss this mistake during two visual and one oral readings. I suspect I happened to read this section all three times long past when I should have quit work for the day.

So, I guess that’s another tip I can share with you. When you edit your manuscript, end the session before your eyes glaze over.

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20 thoughts on “Go ahead, laugh if you want to

  1. Ha! Nothing like a drop of water (an ocean or so) under the bridge to restore perspective! I started writing fiction again early in 2009 and produced a flush of stuff I thought was the bees knees. A friend was less than impressed although others were rather won over. I reeled back. I took a course. I’m taking another course. They are pretty grim!
    Never mind though, the ideas are still there, some of the prose is redeemable, and it’s not like I’m on commission. I’ve learned to love errors and see them as opportunities as well as markers of my progress (grits teeth). I suspect distance improves many things, not just relationships!


  2. I know what you mean, Linda. I get lost in my own work. I don’t mean I get lost in it in the sense that I lose myself. I get lost in the sense that I forget some of the earlier nuances when I’m reading or editing later. I did find, however, that when I’d get to certain parts I’d think my character Rosa should do this or that next and I’d read what she was doing next and it was exactly what I was thinking, so intuitively Rosa is consistent in my mind. Anyway, you’d think I’d know exactly what my characters were doing in every chapter, but that’s why I keep a little outline of my book, so I can refresh my memory at a glance. Seems silly, doesn’t it? Anyway, I hope this makes sense. I love reading your posts, even if I don’t always comment.


    1. It doesn’t seem silly at all, Cristina. I keep a detailed scene list so I can refresh my memory when needed. Especially in editing weeks/months after you finished the book, it’s easy to forget what’s already happened or been said at a certain point.

      I had that “consistent” experience just the other day. 🙂 While I was cleaning up the kitchen, I was thinking that when such and such happened Jalal would say something like blah blah blah. Later, when I sat down to add that line, I found I already had written essentially the same line in that exact scene!


  3. Good advice. Thank you. I’ve missed problems while revising that should have jumped out at me and wondered how. Later I caught myself reading mindlessly through the pages while revising and realized how I could have missed a glaring error. The truth is this: As much as I love my story, I am sick of reading it over and over. Setting it aside for a few weeks or more sharpens my critical eye; yet, it is disparaging to put it away thinking it’s GREAT only to pull it back out after a time to find it needs work. It causes me to doubt myself.


  4. I’m also a huge fan of setting things aside and reading them again months later. And while it can be discouraging to see weaknesses in a manuscript, it can be encouraging to almost simultaneously see how it can be improved. This doesn’t ever completely stop. A friend of mine published a lauded memoir and then line edited pages away for the paperback edition.


  5. Amazing, isn’t it, Linda, what you can see when you step back a ways. I can’t tell you the potential goofs I’ve spotted SEVERAL DRAFTS IN even!

    It is so hard for the writer to separate when you read what you wrote–you can designate a particular read as “the one where I ONLY look for continuity issues” but it never works that way. It simply can’t. We’re just too close to it.


    1. I know I replied to your comment, Erika, but it’s disappeared!

      Yes, I have taken my lashes and will never neglect this longer waiting period again. 🙂 I’ve tried that one thing per pass editing, and I can’t do it either. I compiled a list of things to check for while I read the how-to books, and I think I eventually edited for them all, but not in any organized way.


  6. I found out about a competition I really wanted to enter just a week before the deadline. I’d got the opening chapter of a novel (which was what needed to be subbed), but it was unedited. Over the following week I edited it 5 times. By the end I was sick of it, but although I’d read it twice (once out loud) I wasn’t convinced about having no problems.
    My boyfriend and Mum read it and found about 8 words missing, in the wrong order etc etc. I was gutted, but just proves what you say – had I have had time to put it away for weeks/months I would’ve seen those silly mistakes myself.
    Well done for taking your own advice. And good luck with sending it out.


  7. amazing advice!!! lol.
    hope you’re feeling better, Linda. Odd, I too have been having the blues….the writing blues….but writing through them….been blogging silent for a little while as well…lost my voice. and another cold in the family. Anw, all that to say, you’re not alone!


    1. Jennifer, I’ve written posts on writing rules I follow and writing rules I ignore, so maybe it’s time for a list of writing rules I was stupid to ignore. 🙂

      With all you have to do, you’re excused for going blog silent. Sorry you’ve had the writing blues though. Like Carol said here a few days ago, it’s a season of melancholy that writers and artists seem to come by naturally. We know it will pass, but it’s not much fun while it lingers.


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