I start polishing with the very first draft.
One reason is that I've spent more than twenty years as a professional copyeditor. Typos, awkward sentences, and not-quite-right words jump off the screen. They distract me so much that I can't focus on the story. Thus, even as I'm writing sentences for the first time, I'm checking the dictionary to make sure words have the nuances I think they do, looking in a thesaurus to find le mot juste, and checking the Internet to see whether such-and-such a food or technology existed in my time period. At the very least, I put a green bar over a word or phrase that I need to come back to.
But I also think revising from the very beginning leads to a better book and that most of the reasons apply to every writer.
- People get used to mistakes if they see them often enough. If you've read your manuscript more than three times, you're probably no longer seeing most of the mistakes and they'll stay in the story forever.
- If you have a critique group, mistakes can throw your readers off track. For example, if you type "Mali" instead of "Bali," your readers will be baffled when your protagonist goes scuba diving in the ocean or sees an orangutan in the forest. Similarly, convoluted sentences and unneeded words can mistakenly lead your readers to think your story boring when in truth raw writing is hiding the great story underneath. I believe the cleaner the manuscript, the better your critique group can focus on your storytelling.
- I edit better than I write. My first drafts tend to be self-contradictory and repetitive, overuse certain words, and have characters named A, B, C, and D. Given I need to copyedit my first draft before I give it to anyone anyway, I might as well strengthen the verbs and nouns, smooth out obvious bumps in rhythm, and untangle sentences.
- I want my finished manuscript to be perfectly clean and every sentence to be beautiful. Of course, I'll never achieve that level of quality; we all have to settle for good enough because our lives are finite and we want to publish many things. But the level of quality I'm willing to settle for usually requires ten to twenty rounds of polishing. Doing those rounds at the end would drive me crazy with boredom. Spreading them out keeps polishing fun and also lets problem words, sentences, and paragraphs marinate long enough for good solutions to arise.
- It's easy to forget what you've worked on and what you haven't. By checking spellings, connotations and denotations, and facts right from the beginning, I rarely have a story fall apart because I made an erroneous assumption at the start that affects a crucial plot element.
How do you polish your book, and why do you do it that way?
I'll be back at Novel Spaces again on September 6. I hope you enjoy the end of your summer.