Last weekend I really wanted to share my thoughts on college, but wouldn’t you know it, a load of work from my editor was DUMPED into my lap on November 2. I mean, a LOT of work you guys. At first I responded with a two sentence acknowledgment email, because I needed a week to come to terms with everything on my plate, allowing all of his nitpicks and plot-hole issues to seep into my brain. Then to come up with a game plan of how I was going to tackle everything.
The trickiest part was coming up with an ETA for when I’d hand the manuscript (MS) back to him so he could wrap everything up with a nice bow and we could begin the submissions process. My exact words to him were, “TBH I can’t say when I’ll have the MS ready for you. A part of me is shooting for January 1, but my vision of the future is blocked by the mountain of work in front of me, so I can’t accurately guess. Maybe in another 2 weeks I’ll have a better forecast in mind.”
(“Current forecast shows high levels of stress and low levels of free time.”)
But the silver lining to this episode, and the reason I’m posting it, is because for once I actually have the chance to QUANTIFY how much work this phase of book writing entails. See, for me I’ve always been frustrated when talking about this with lay people because so much work that goes into it is hard to quantify. Seriously. Like, if I were to bring up the fact that there’s one sentence I’m struggling to get just right, and it could be a couple of days of thinking about it and rehashing it, how do you put that into terms that people can grasp? Or on the days where I actually don’t write on the book itself, but instead take a pad of paper and sit in a quiet place, coming up with pages of illegible ideas?
You can’t. Most people will just view it as a waste of time. But—luckily for the sake of this post, that abstract process of coming up with ideas, of making something from nothing, doesn’t apply to the copy editing phase, where the editor looks not at a book’s plot, characters, or dialogue but instead the SENTENCES themselves. In other words, the readability of the book.
(“You know what would make your book easier to read, mate? MARKERS.”)
So let’s do it, starting with what I call the “CTRL+F” words. As the editor read the manuscript, he noticed that certain words kept popping up, over and OVER again. So his simple advice was to use Microsoft Word’s find function (ie CTRL+F) to search for certain overused words, like “chuckle” and “shake” and “white” (my favorite color, apparently).
At this point, you may be skeptical. “How long can it take find repeated words and delete them?” you wonder. “A few hours?”
Maybe if this were a 10 pen page college essay, it might. But when you’re dealing with a 350 page novel in the neighborhood of 98,000 words (yes, thousand with a “th”) the work piles up. What’s more is that 80% percent of the time the repetitive word simply can’t be deleted and also—you know what? How about I just post my progress sheet to help make my point?
(The words Escape, Notice, Remind, Listen, Surprise, Discover, Whisper, Reveal, and Learn are written on the back of this same sheet.)
Ah…that’s better. Ok, here’s the breakdown of each line. In blue ink I’ve written the word and its original word count. In pencil, I would then write the final number to the left of the word, and then the page numbers that word appears on. For example, the first word “Gray” originally appears in the manuscript 27 times. After using the CTRL+F function I whittled all my “Grays” down to a mere three, and ONLY on pages 3, 17, and 218. Page numbers are important, because the words can’t be clustered together; in fact, better for a word to appear 30 times across a 350 page novel than that same word eight times on one page. Make sense?
So that one wasn’t so bad. But if you look at the list, there are some real heavy-hitters. I mean the word “_just_” appears a whopping 235 times from beginning to end, and to reduce it to 77 took almost 4 hours. That’s me going through all 235 entries and deciding if I can delete the word, substitute a synonym, rewrite the passage it appears in to make the sentiment clearer, or simply deciding that the word MUST be there. TWICE. That’s right. I went through each appearance of the word whittled as much as I could, got to the end of the book, and then went to the start of the book, making absolutely SURE that I’ve whittled as much as I could.
(“And when you’re done playing around, I got some ACTUAL wood whittling for ya!”)
But wait, there’s more. Sometimes when substituting words, you discover that the substitute you had in mind can’t be used because it’s used excessively too. DAMMIT! An example of this is the word “small.” My editor pointed it out, and when I tallied it up, I had 51 entries on my hand. My knee-jerk reaction was to substitute it with the word “little” but “little” appears 46 times! So not only can’t I use it, I now have another word to whittle down!
But in time, I was able to make it work. The majority of the words weren’t that bad, but the two words with stars next to them, “realize” and “nod” were especially tough. And since I’m working alone, that star was my way of complaining. To myself. But I’m getting off-topic, so it’s probably best to stop blogging and get back to work.
And with that I’ll wrap things up for today. If you liked this post be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email and if you were a bit surprised by some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in creating a book be sure to COMMENT below.
See you next week,
J. F. Seegitz