I did say that – and I meant it! I still do, even if the process took rather longer than I anticipated.
My target was to finish in June, which discounting full-time working and holiday, effectively gave me seven weeks. Perhaps predictably, I didn’t quite make it, but I’m happy with ten weeks from first draft to sending off to the copy-editor. I’d much rather have a little slippage and a manuscript that is as good as I can make it, than rush it off too soon.
As for the editing process itself – my ‘Red Letter’ edit was fairly straightforward – at least finding the information I needed was. Checking the rest of the manuscript to ensure that any changes were carried through consistently was rather more of a task, but oh so worth it.
it was at this point that I entrusted my ‘baby’ to several readers for their comments. The deal was that they’d email them back to me noting page / line numbers for each comment. Which should of course have been fine, except that as I was also continuing to edit myself the pages were constantly changing, so it made it harder than it should have been to marry the comments to the relevant text. Even the marvels of technology couldn’t help with that one!
Having sorted out that tangle (and made some useful alterations along the way as a result of the feedback) it was time to tackle repetitions. By this time, having read through the manuscript three times (aside from as I wrote it) I had a (long-ish) list of words and phrases that I suspected occurred rather too often. Several of my characters appear to be very fond of stepping forward, guffawing, and shaking their heads and I had to politely, but firmly tell them enough was enough. My rule of thumb – no more than 4 occurences of any such actions are permitted. This is where technology in the form of the ‘find and replace’ feature on the computer comes into its own. It took me from occurence to occurrence without a hitch and though at times it was incredibly hard to think of another more interesting way to describe a particular action, the resultant changes and / or deletions are (I hope) an improvement.
It wasn’t only repetitions of phrases I noted, but an over abudance of the word ‘that’. Useful in many circumstances, but sprinkled like salt on almost every page wasn’t appropriate. So ‘that’ had an edit all to itself, with the rather amazing result – I removed c 400 instances of ‘that’ and I don’t miss one of them!
A word to the wary – computers are great, but they don’t as yet know the difference between a collection of letters and a word. – So if you ask the computer to find a word it will find every occasion when that collection of letters occurs, whether a whole word or part of a larger one. Nor apparently can it distinguish between lower and upper case letters. If you want to change a person’s name from Tom to Neville, for example, click ‘replace all’ and you may find you have spawned some very strange words indeed such as ‘Nevilleatoes’ and ‘Nevilleorrow’, turning sentences into gobbledegook in the process. The only safe way to use ‘Find and replace’ is one occurrence at a time.
The final step for me was a read-aloud read through in as large chunks as possible. It took me 18 hours spread over two days and I was shattered by the end of it. (I hope actors who record audio-books are well paid for their efforts…) This was very much an instinctive process, I found very little actually wrong with the manuscript, but there were a few points were I felt uneasy and so revisited the text to tweak a little. As for the next stage – handing it over to the copy editor – that’s for another post.