I wrote my novel on a Mac computer using MS Word, which automatically checked each chapter as I wrote it for spelling and/or grammatical errors. That was my first line of defense against those types of mistakes. However even MS Word occasionally overlooks an error, allowing the wrong word instead of suggesting the right one, as long as it is spelled correctly. This often happens where the word in question doesn't constitute a grammatical error. ‘The soccer match was one by our team’ is a good example of this, where ‘one’ should be ‘won’. Spell-checkers don’t seem to be able to detect errors with homonyms. (E.g. one, won; beach, beech; cereal, serial, etc.)
The way I got around this was proofreading aloud. When you read silently, you tend to unintentionally skip over words, including errors. This is because our brain ‘auto-corrects’ things for us without us realizing it. (Just ‘Google’ the word ‘typoglycemia’ for a better explanation of this. You can also find this word defined on ‘Wikipedia’.)
Also, the longer the text, the more tired or lazy our brain becomes as we attempt to edit it. Instead of taking the trouble to read each and every word, our ever efficient brain automatically predicts what is written, especially in the case of prepositions and conjunctions and so on, and naturally skips to the next ‘real’ word. This is a skill we picked up when we first learned to read.
Proofreading aloud has an additional benefit, too. When you read aloud, you hear yourself speak, and occasionally you notice that you had inadvertently used a hackneyed expression, or a common cliché, or perhaps the sentence sounded ‘sloppy’ and not well worded. Furthermore, reading aloud can help you improve the dialogue between your characters. When actually hearing the dialogue being spoken, you can more easily determine if it sounds good or ‘cheesy’, and whether or not it is realistic or by contrast comes across as clumsy and unnatural. My wife will often tell me that ‘something doesn’t sound right’, or that ‘nobody speaks like that normally’, and so on. When I read back over it, I realize that she was correct, and while it looked good on paper, it didn’t sound ‘real’ when read aloud.
My wife is actually one of the members of my ‘inner circle’ – something that I recommend to any new author. Sometimes on writing websites and book forums you can see opportunities to be part of another writer’s ‘reading circle’ or ‘book review club’, or even a Kindle Review Club for writers and readers of e-books, and so on. For my debut novel, there were only three members in my inner circle – my sister in Australia, my wife here in Japan, and my male friend who also lives in Japan.
All three members are of course native speakers of English, highly literate, and love reading. I chose my sister because I wanted someone completely removed from Japan, a western-minded person with no knowledge of this country. I needed to be sure that this book would have general appeal, and not just to those who were familiar with the Japanese culture and customs that would feature frequently in my novel.
I chose my wife not only because she has been so supportive of the whole project right from the beginning, but also because she was someone to whom I could read my chapters aloud. Hence, I received a different kind of feedback from her than I did from my sister and my friend. My wife’s feedback was instant and verbal, often producing immediate and constructive discussion.
My friend Jordan was chosen because I wanted another male’s opinion on several aspects of my book. Jordan has a Japanese wife, and therefore his input and commentary with regard to ‘Japanese relationships’ was also invaluable.
These three inner-circle members all commented on the second draft of my novel, and I applied their ‘edits’ and suggestions when editing my book for the second time. They were able to recommend changes that I hadn’t even thought of, and not just in the case of grammar or language usage, but also with regard to plot, characterization, story flow, action sequences and so forth. I am extremely grateful to them for that.
I had the good fortune to meet a professional writer and editor by the name of Rob Parnell, an internet-based ‘writing-guru’, who has written numerous courses on writing, as well as his own novels and short stories. You can find much of his brilliant work available on Amazon. In fact, he also has a specific course just on ‘self-editing’.
After subscribing to many of Rob’s courses, we became acquainted with each other and established a mutually beneficial, working relationship. Having previously been a teacher, and now an aspiring editor and writer, I began editing Rob’s books and in return he has been editing my debut novel. Rob has worked with me on the final draft.
Having a professional editor review your book, especially someone with extensive experience in the writing industry, really takes the editing process to a whole new level. Without a doubt, it gives your book the best chance it has of being successfully published. You can’t do much more than this when it comes to editing your manuscript and preparing your book for publication, whether you choose to go the traditional route via an agent and/or ‘real-world’ publisher or you decide to self-publish. (See my previous article on this topic, ‘Publishing My Novel’.)
In summary, the best ways I’ve found to edit my manuscript for publication, apart from using MS Word’s inbuilt grammar and spell checker, include reading each chapter aloud, utilizing an inner circle for further feedback and commentary, and if possible, having a professional editor review your book. If you know of any additional methods that have worked for you, I’d be most grateful if you could share them in the comments section below. Thanks.
Some ideas I have seen on the Internet include proofreading a paper copy rather than from your computer screen. However I can’t imagine printing my entire novel out – I think my printer would suffer a cardiac arrest or possibly even explode. Other suggestions included letting a certain amount of time pass before proofreading, and reading a manuscript backwards, so as to focus on words as opposed to whole sentences. One website even suggested reading the text upside down, but I’m not sure if that was serious, or the writer’s idea of a joke. In any case, I wish you all the best with your own editing, and hope that 2014 is a successful year for you.
See you on the shelf!
Kind regards, Chris