Polishing the manuscript.
By David Joel Miller, writer, blogger, and mental health professional.
My journey from writing something to making it readable.
It’s a long process with many steps to transform that finished manuscript into a book that’s published and available for purchase. Each one of these steps has a learning curve. I’m going through the process of learning the most rudimentary parts of these steps, but I could certainly learn a great deal more.
Each one of these steps is a skill that takes time and effort to master, which is why many people elect to pay others to help with the steps along this process. I’ll briefly outline the steps I took, and maybe in the future, I’ll get back to some of these steps in greater detail.
Too much typing can be extremely hard on the body.
Back when I went to high school, and even my first go around in a Community College, typing was something delegated to secretarial students. I remember a friend in high school who majored in typing, stenography, and general secretarial skills. It seems to have worked out well for her.
Since my writing was not in my scope of duties where I was working, having someone else type up my dictated manuscript was not feasible. I learned to type mainly by looking at the keys as I went. As we adapted to entering our notes into computers, I was spending more and more time “pounding the keys.” I was able to work up quite a bit of speed writing that way, but the net result was that I, along with many of my coworkers, got to wear those annoying wrist braces used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
I made the shift to dictating.
I’ve been using Dragon Speak for dictation for some time. I found it had both good and problematic features. As the years have gone by, the manufacturer has improved the program, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not so good. The most problematic part of using any technology is the rate at which changes occur.
I find it very upsetting when buttons move around the page, and the features I could use yesterday have disappeared today. Over time, I learned enough of the features to make it work, and then lo and behold, one-morning dictation appeared as a feature in Microsoft Word. I’m still learning to use the program, but with all the writing I do, it would not be possible to type out error-free pages.
You will need to fix all those errors.
In the early days of writing my blog, a lot of posts got published full of errors. Sometimes it was the wrong word choice, and other times it was incorrect punctuation. Words like “there” and “their” slipped through in the wrong usages.
Writing a piece and then immediately posting it creates a tremendous potential for errors to slip by. Especially after working all day and writing in the evening. When your brain’s fuzzy, rereading what you have just finished writing lets a lot of errors slip through.
How do you reduce those errors?
I rely heavily on every available resource to reduce the number of errors in the pieces I write. Notice I didn’t say eliminate the errors. The more aware I have become, the more I spot errors in traditionally published books. Even using professional proofreaders, some errors slip by. The more eyes you have on the book, the more likely you are to catch mistakes.
Whatever program you’re using to write, it probably includes a spelling and grammar checker. I find this a help, but not a solution. Over the last 15 years, since I’ve been working on my writing more seriously, spell check, grammar checkers, and editing software have improved dramatically. But, remarkably, these programs don’t all agree on some of these corrections.
Learning to dictate created its own set of problems.
Typing all day at an office-type job resulted in a case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Wearing braces on my wrists helped somewhat, but it didn’t solve the whole problem, especially when I was coming home from work and “pounding the keys” late into the evening trying to finish a blog post or a chapter in a book.
I have used more than one dictation program. Unfortunately, each of them has had its problems. I know that there are writing coaches who advocate dictating as a way to speed up your word count. I have found that sometimes it does help me get my thoughts out on “paper” a lot faster. But dictation also results in introducing a lot of errors that need to be corrected. Spotting and correcting those errors sometimes takes your focus off reading the content and can introduce a lot of other errors.
One other resource I wouldn’t be without.
I don’t do a lot of heavy proofreading and editing when I’m in the writing process. I get the ideas, and I want to get them down on paper as quickly as possible. I’ve learned that there are many other steps that need to happen after I have a clean, finished first draft to turn it into something readable, even by family and friends.
One resource I do use is Grammarly. At the end of each blog post or when writing my novels after each chapter, I open up Grammarly and quickly correct the most glaring errors. There are ways to set the features so that it detects some errors and not others. I took another approach. I let it show me all the potential errors. Then I correct the ones I want to correct and leave the ones I choose not to change.
When writing dialogue, I try to give each character a different voice. Try is probably the keyword here. That means if the college professor is speaking, I correct all the errors. But if my protagonist speaks to another character, I let them have their own voice and leave unchanged some of the slang expressions they might be using.
You’d think I’d be done now, wouldn’t you?
Many more steps are required to turn this “unsanded, rough draft” into something I would want someone else to read. I’m still refining this process so it becomes the kind of automatic habit that can turn out readable manuscripts consistently. Getting those manuscripts ready for publication is another topic I’ll talk about in an upcoming blog post.
Am I planning on publishing another book?
Absolutely. I’m currently working on a series of books in which I bring back a character (Nancy Nusbaum from the Paranormal News) who appeared in one of my previous novels, and I will send her off to have a whole series of new adventures.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller.
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