Having said that, this post will probably have at least a hundred mistakes in it. That will only give me an excuse to copy and paste it into Word, and then run it through the process I’m about to outline.
So, here we go.
I’m in the process of getting Dead Friends ready to go. At lot of that is cleaning the manuscript, adding a bit here, cutting some there. But that can be rather entertaining.
Step One: I write the chapter, short story, or whatever. An often quoted piece of advice blamed on Hemingway is “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Sounds funny, but there is a method to his madness.
Anytime we write, it’s a free run of whatever comes through our mind. We’re creating a scene, our characters are running through it while things happen around them. And our fingers are moving at speeds that threaten to melt our keyboards just to get it all down.
We finish, look at it, and we’re happy with it.
Step Two: Come back the next day or a week later and read it (which I’ll do with this). This is the first editing step. What I’m looking for is redundancy (having said the same thing twice), places where I think it would move better or the characters could interact better, or anything that counters what’s been established.
I’m also looking for obvious typos and mistakes in grammar. A very popular typo, at least with me, is the words “out” and “our.” Half the time when I mean “out,” I’ve typed “our.” The reverse is also true. This is a simple mistake since the keys are so close together, but one that can you make you look like a first class idiot.
When I’m finished with the first run through, I do a search through the document. I’m looking for common words like “out” and “our,” locate them in the document, and make sure I’ve typed in the correct word.
I then run it through Microsoft Word’s Spellcheck and fix what pops up.
Now, I print it to paper.
Step Three: I inflict whatever I’ve written on my beautiful wife, Julie. I sit down and read it to her. What I’m looking for is flow. How does it sound? Are certain sentences to wordy? She’s listening of course, and offers constructive criticism.
Often times, her advice centers around the characters. Do their motivations sound legit. Do they all sound alike, or who’s speaking here. Can she see the character doing something or saying something. An interesting source of issues often centers around what Will Diaz remembers or relates. He’s a good Christian man, but he has worked with the dregs of the world. His hunting grounds have been the streets, strip bars, and the seedy establishments of the world. Sometimes, I have to tone it down a little.
While I’m reading it, I’m writing whatever I don’t like or whatever she says in the margins. And just reading it helps me catch a few small typos or errors.
All that gets marked up with the old red pencil.
Speaking of which, has anyone noticed red pencils are hard to find, even in some office supply stores? I have to order mine from Amazon!
Step Four: Usually, but not always, the following day, I sit down with the same manuscript I read out loud the night before and really take the pencil to it. The road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I question the need for everyone of them. I also look at a sentence and decide will one word work better than two or more. The need for every word, and even the need for some sentences is questioned. If the work doesn’t suffer by losing it, then red pencil marks them out. I run it through this a couple of times, usually with a break in between (sometimes hours, sometimes days).
Step Five: With the manuscript on a typing stand, I fix everything marked by the Red Pencil. I then read the changes out to myself, and listen to how it sounds, and for any obvious mistakes. On occasion, I’ll print it off again and subject the entire revised manuscript to another session with the pencil.
Step Six: Run it through Spellcheck one more time, and then Grammarly. Grammarly is good for catching things like context issues, odd words, and the like. It’s also great for revealing and removing my love affair with the comma.
Sometimes, I ignore its advice, but that’s a choice I know I’m making.
There may be one more thing that happens in Step Five. I have several characters that speak Spanish. Whatever I want them to say, I write out in English and then run it through the built in translator in Word. That works well with one small problem. It doesn’t localize what’s said, but gives you an almost college perfect translation. My characters live in the San Luis Valley, and we’ve developed our own weird spin on the language.
This is where my buddy Toby Madrid lends a helping hand. I send him the English and Spanish of whatever’s said. He then translates the Spanish into San Luis Valley Spanish. He’s also helpful with tidbits about local culture or history that often get written into the story.
Step Seven: Getting close now. I do one more out loud reading, then run the whole mess through Hemingway. This gives it a final look over and gives some great tips on how I might do or say things better.
The Final Step: This happens before I put it into book form. There’s one final printing of the chapter or article, and a final read through with the red pencil close by. If I like it and I don’t find anything, then great. If not, then I fix it and the process starts over. By the time I get it to this stage, it’s rare anything changes.
Reflecting on what Hemingway had to say, I think what he was trying to get across is your story after you write it is stream of consciousness. After you take the pencil to it, and correct it, only then is it a story worth telling.