After weeks or months, maybe even years, your completed passion project sits before you, loveless black letters arranged neatly on the white background of your word processor (unless you have one of those fancy writing apps with the bamboo-shoot backgrounds and ocean waves, for whatever reason). For so long, the incompleteness of the project has been your enemy, and you spent what feels like an absolutely impossible amount of energy doing something that you’ve probably intuitively known how to do since you were a young kid. The “WIP” part of your document title is now false.
Or is it?
OK, first of all, once you’ve finished writing, you should put your computer down and take a well-deserved nap or bath. Practice self-care. Watch a garbage show on TV. Go to a bar. Book a vacation. It doesn’t matter–completing a full-length manuscript is a big deal, and you deserve some time off. Have a day job? If you’re at all able, take some time off from that, too. (Americans are notorious for not taking time off or using PTO. Don’t be part of that depressing statistic!)
It’s also important to take some time to remove yourself from your writing. You still probably have ideas swirling around in your head, and if you keep picking at your project and don’t give yourself some time to regroup, it’ll be harder for you to think about your writing with a clear head. I would recommend that you step away from your manuscript for at least two weeks, but don’t go longer than three months without dusting it back off again.
Don’t fret about hiring an editor or a book designer. Don’t start picking out the dream house you intend to buy with the profits, either. Sorry to say it, but you’re not out of the woods yet in terms of the work you still have to do.
The first thing you’ll want to do when you sit down to reread your manuscript is turn on the “track-changes” function on your word processor. No worries if you don’t have Word–Google Docs has this functionality. You’ll also want to get in the habit of making comments in the margins using the “comment” functionality. These annotations can be anything–things you think you did well, notes for yourself to go back and add more content, and even rewritten versions of the same few sentences if you want to compare them.
Make grammatical and spelling changes as you come across them. Don’t leave these for the final editing stage. You’ll forget them, and each time you reread those sections, it’ll drive you crazy.
Once you’ve finished your first edit, set the manuscript aside for another few days or weeks, and then pick it back up.
Yes, you’re going to read it again. Trust me, you and your editor will both look back and appreciate ye it.
The second time you read the text, you’re going to want to read it out loud. Find a quiet and secluded place to do this so as not to annoy the people you live with. Reading what you’ve written aloud is essential for catching weird sentence issues or places where your dialogue or style might not sound natural. Our ears are often more intuitive than our eyes when it comes to language.
When you’ve thoroughly edited and proofed the book at least twice, clean up your revisions, and think about how you want to hire an editor. If you want to self-publish, you’ll probably use an independent agency or a freelancer. This means faster turnaround times. If you’re going the old-fashioned route and applying through a publishing house, it’ll likely be a while after your book is accepted for publication before you have it thoroughly edited.
In the future I’ll be posting some troubleshooting guides meant to address the most common errors you’ll want to look out for as you edit, including guides on grammar, dialogue, and structure, among others.
Take care, and good luck!