Like most writers, when I finish a story, except for running through Spell Check and formatting my manuscript according to publisher requirements, I tend to sit back and enjoy my accomplishment. However, the twenty-four hour pause between completion and my final reading often makes me far more self-critical, and almost always reveals another flaw that needs correction.
There was a time when I was so excited about my stories that I’d send them off as soon as I typed the last period. As I languished, waiting for the acceptance notice from the publisher, inevitably I would reread my submission and break into a cold sweat. “How did I miss that? It’s so damn obvious.”
I quickly learned to put some distance between completion and submission. We become so intimate with our words that we are often blinded by our own errors, easily passing over the flaw.
“Even an editor needs an editor.” These wise words belong to N. K. Wagner, the publisher of Page and Spine, who graciously suffered through my revisions. Having someone else read our work offers a fresh perspective and a critical eye, but not all of us can afford the cost of a professional editor, and quite frankly, few of my friends would know the difference between a comma and a semicolon. I learned rather quickly that the only way I could ensure that I was sending off my best work was to give it a rest, walk away and come back another day to self-edit.
Even looking at my writing with refreshed eyes, I still manage to miss some nits. I’ve discovered my fingers automatically type form when the word should be from. This dyslexic habit has yet to be overcome, but my awareness of the issue makes me look for the word to confirm proper spelling. One trick that works for me is to change the font. It may be a self-delusion, but it helps me actually read the words instead of anticipating each sentence from memory.
Many publications include a proviso on their release form that states the work may be ‘gently edited.’ When I see this statement, I audibly sigh with relief knowing they will be forgiving of a missing comma, but more and more often these days, submitted work must be publish-ready, allowing a copy/paste, one-step process. Some publications will disqualify submissions for something as inconsequential (in the writer’s mind) of the incorrect font size. The twenty-four hour mandatory pause I impose as a personal rule, allows me to read the submission guidelines again and check my work for compliance.
We put blood, sweat and tears into our work. Our stories become our babies, and we tend to be protective and often defensive, but what is needed is personal pride and adherence to submission guidelines. We need to treat the product we submit with respect.
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.