Monday, January 4, 2010

Pre-submission rituals. I have no shame.

Last month I turned in the first draft of my next book. After finishing the substantive changes my critique partners suggested, I went through some pre-submission rituals to check the copy. My list isn't exhaustive, but I thought it might be useful for some.

1. Spellcheck. Enough said.

2. A "Find and Replace" that changes two spaces to one. When I learned to type, we were taught to space twice after periods. The habit is mine for life now, but it's unnecessary now that we use computers instead of typewriters.

3. Check that chapter headings go in order. This manuscript went from Chapter 31 to Chapter 33.

4. Search for my personal over-used words. When I turned in my last manuscript, my editor said I used the verb "yank" too much. I checked it out. Sure enough, curtains were yanked, hair yanked, etc. She also said, "Everybody in this book wears a boring t-shirt!" It's normal; we all do it. A best-selling author I enjoy has a protagonist that "turns on her heel" every time she gets upset, in every book. The thing is to try to become aware of those words and phrases and find substitutes. This manuscript had a few that I found:
"irritated/irritate/irritating": appearances cut from 12 to 5.
"for the first time": appearances cut from 8 to 4.
"random": cut from 6 to 4.
"eyebrows": cut from 16 to 8.

5. Look for words I don't need. Examples: just, that, was, saw (28 uses), heard (41 uses), smelled (0 uses). There is almost always a stronger way to build a sentence.

6. Check for unnecessary dialogue tags. "Said" is the preferred one, but if it can be removed and replaced with a character action that indicates the speaker, all the better: "I can't believe I used the word 'eyebrows' sixteen times." Rachel reached for a cookie. "Am I really going to admit this on my blog?"

7. Try to remove adverbs. I did a search for words ending in -ly. I was horrified! 931 uses! Thankfully (there's another -ly) these weren't a bunch of quicklies, swiftlies, softlies, tenderlies, and smoothlies, though. Most common -lys that I found: Emily (34 uses, and that's excusable!), mistakenly, definitely, only, probably, eventually, actually, finally, family, personally, immediately. You can see that not every -ly word is an adverb. Still, I think it's worth a look.

The revision letter is coming, guys. If there are comments that I can share without giving away story elements, I'll post them in all their horror so we can learn together.

Write on!


  1. Great post, Rachel, lots of good info. I laughed at #2 -- I think I've finally broken myself of the "two spaces" habit.

  2. What? No sacrifice to the submission gods? I usually burn a virgin ream of paper under a full moon. Hmm, I thought everyone did that. Did some writing instructor yank my chain along the way?

  3. Oh, ouch, I still have the two spaces habit. I'm going to have to work on that, or do the search and replace thing.

  4. I still do the two spaces after a period, but at least I stopped adding the extra spaces when I get reports to read.

  5. Ah well, I did one thing right. I never learned the two-space habit, since I only learned to type at college from a friend.

  6. Whoo... these are all great ideas for revising. I know I use the verbs "turned" and "looked" WAY too much. I wonder what a find count would turn up...

  7. Yea! I'm so happy for you! I know you've worked hard on it and now you're on the home stretch. And great advice, some things I wouldn't have thought of.

  8. Thanks, Kristy. I hope your writing is going well too!