Listen to the Muse (pt.4): The Muse has stopped, now what?

Image courtesy of: Pedro Ribeiro Simões Autographing a book Lisbon Book’s Fair, Lisbon, Portugal (Author: Maria Inácio Rezola)

Welcome back to the Muse series.  You have managed to cooperate and guide the muse, and it has told you that the last word has been written.  Now, what are you supposed to do?

Now comes the hard part (some consider it the fun part… I think they’re a little crazy, but everyone has different tastes.)  Now, you get to start the next step.

  • Step away from your work.  This is the writing police… step aaawaaay from your work.

Give yourself a chance to rest.  A day, a week, some would say at least a month.  But, put some time distance between what you’ve just finished, and your next reading pass.

  • READ what you’ve written.

Now that it is complete, read through it.  Don’t edit anything yet.  Just let the words flow, and listen to the story as you go through it again.

  • Read with the intent to edit.

Once you have finished reading the entire manuscript is the perfect time to hit it with your first edit/revision pass.  You saw all of the glaring mistakes, plot holes, and loosely woven threads.  Those are still fresh in your mind, which provides the foundation for you to make the necessary decisions about what to do with them in context.  That is the key – remember you are working in the context of your story, not in an element-by-element isolation.  Go ahead, if you need to, and focus on just fixing the plot holes, or just fixing the grammar.  But, do this in the context of the entire work.

  • Put everything down for another day or two.  If you have some good beta readers who are honest with you, then ship your work off to them now.

No, this is no where near polished, but it has enough work invested that now you can let trusted people read through and start picking at the work for any issues you may have missed.  The other thing you may want to do is to make a COPY of your work to go over again.  Read it, but make no changes in this reading pass.  Try to see it as an outsider would.  Highlight areas that you want to work on in more depth on your COPY.  Leave the original alone.

  • Walk away until your get your responses back from the beta readers.

Work on something else – the next book in the series, a new book, or even some short stories or a blog.  But, do something else for a while.  Once you get your responses back, then move onto the next step.

  • Compare your highlighted or notated copy with the comments from your readers.

Doing this lets you fine tune how readers see your work, and where the issues really are.  If you are luckier than I have been, you’ll have at least two, maybe three betas who send you information to work from.  However, even one annotated response is valuable.

  • Sharpen your scalpel and your pen, then find the sand paper.

With the responses in, now is the time to take the surgical tools to your original manuscript.  Cut out the sections that are not working.  Fill in the sections that leave questions that shouldn’t be there.  Sand off the rough edges due to bad grammar, poor punctuation, and other small issues.  This may take several passes to catch them all.

  • Find or work with a good editor

Now that you’ve polished it as much as you can personally, it is time to bring in the “big guns”.  Critique groups are great if you have to go the low cost route.  However, they may not be as reliable as a professional editor.  So, judge your budget, and get the highest quality edit you can afford.

When your work comes back from the editor, make the last pass to evaluate the editors suggestions, and finalize the edits.

Now, you should have something that shines and sparkles.  Put a good cover on it, and work out how you want to publish it so you can start the process all over again.


I hope you have enjoyed this series.  Next week, I’ll finally be returning to the “Behind the scenes” series for how Out of the DarknessRemember the Shadows, and Into the Sunlits were written.


Comments and questions welcome.

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