You know what are awful? Deadlines. They are just awful. They start off way in the horizon, waving at you and winking, and you think: That guy is so far away, what’s he even doing out there so far away? Who cares? Not me!
Then you look up a bit later and your deadline has moved towards you a bit, like some shady cat that you’re pretty sure has been creeping when your back is turned but when you turn to look is always sitting frozen. It’s like a game of red light/green light.
A few weeks later and you know for sure that sucker has been coming your way. You can see it clearly now but it’s giving you a big, stupid smile and doesn’t seem that threatening.
A blink later and your deadline has smacked you in the ass and taken off running ahead of you and you’re eating its dust.
In an effort not to get smacked in the ass, I’ve been feverishly editing Grey Winter, the second book in the Tournament series, in the hopes I will crush my publishing deadline of the end of September. Right now things are going…okaaaay. Don’t get me wrong, the book itself is awesome. Better than Blue Fall, if I may say so (as sequels always should be), but the editing is really draining.
I’ve written on my editing process before, but it goes something like this: I do two read-aloud edits of the work myself, then I send it to my editor, then I do another read aloud edit and incorporate his changes, then I send it to my beta readers, then I do one final read aloud edit and incorporate their changes.
That’s a six step edit process, for those of you counting. Undoubtedly some infuriating and juvenile mistake always slips by every one of us (myself on multiple occasions), but like I’ve said before, readers will forgive you for one or two mistakes. Three, not so much. Three strikes and you’re done, son; put on the dunce cap and sit in the back of writing school.
As it stands, I’ve completed my first two read-aloud edits and the manuscript is currently with my editor. What is a read-aloud edit, you ask? It’s an extremely painful editing technique wherein you are forced to come face to face with harsh realities of your prose, namely that all too frequently what you thought was thrilling prose actually reads like a textbook.
Don’t worry about it, it happens to everyone. The good news is you caught it and you can fix it.
Sometimes authors forget that what readers want above all else in the prose that they read is clarity. You can have the most interesting plot line and characterizations on earth, but if nobody has any idea what’s going on, nobody will like your book. Except maybe a handful of English graduate students that get off on stuff like that.
You might say, “Well what about Ulysses or Finnigan’s Wake? Those books are about as clear as mud and are considered masterpieces!”
To which I respond with this: Take it easy. Anybody that tells you that they think those books are masterpieces is lying because they haven’t actually read them. Nobody has read them. Not even James Joyce read them, and he wrote them (in what I’m convinced must have been some sort of fugue state). Don’t set out to write the next Finnigan’s Wake. You’ll pass out a few pages in.
Anyway, where were we? Ah yes. Clarity. So, how do you make sure your prose is clear? Read it aloud to yourself. You have no idea how many convoluted, backwards paragraphs you find when you actually take the time to verbalize your book.
There is a simple explanation for why we pass over so many mistakes when we only edit things in our head. Your brain is faster than your eyes when you read; your brain already has an idea of what the prose should be, and it will not be denied. Your brain will trick your eyes into thinking you’ve described your idea perfectly when in reality you’ve written a hot mess.
The only thing that can slow down your brain is your mouth. Your mouth is like a governor; it checks your brain MPH and forces you to actually see what you’ve written. If your prose doesn’t make sense to your ears when you hear it, it certainly won’t make sense to any of your readers when they read it. Conversely, if your prose sounds clear when it’s read aloud, it will ring as clear as a silver bell in the brains of your readers.
In fact, I would argue that you shouldn’t ever do an edit that isn’t a read aloud edit. If you do, you’re wasting valuable time that you could be using to correct for clarity.
The downside of a read-aloud edit, of course, is the fact that it can bring you face to face with some really ugly prose. Really ugly. Stuff that makes you think: There is no way I could have written that. I’m a genius, and that sounds like a warbling turkey.
But that’s the breaks, friends. Fix your textbook prose and move on and you’ll be a better writer for it.