hey, you! step away from that manuscript

Yeah, that’s right, you. Step away from that manuscript. I don’t care how many times you’ve read your work-in-progress, there are still errors lurking within all those words. The best way to find all those mistakes is to step away from the work. Two weeks is usually good.

Here a few pre-submission tricks you can try at home:

  • If you belong to a critique group, get at least two people who have read the chapters to critique the manuscript as a whole;
  • Select at least two other people who’ve never seen the book to critique the manuscript;
  • While all of these people are reading your manuscript, do not look at it! That’s right! Don’t open the file, print it out, don’t even think about it;
  • When you’ve gone through everyone’s comments and made corrections, read through the manuscript again.

I’ll guarantee you’ll find a whole host of errors that escaped you and your readers. Once you’ve finished editing from this perspective, find one person who has never seen a single word of your manuscript and get that individual to give you a critique. While that person is looking at the book, don’t crack a page, no matter how tempting it may be.

When that person has finished, you must read through the hard-copy a final time. Why is that time away so necessary? Your brain knows what you want to say, and it will read those missing words into a sentence. By stepping away from the manuscript for a couple of weeks, you’re giving yourself time to forget certain passages.

You’ll also find places where paragraphs don’t flow well and need a few extra sentences, redundant phrases, and grammar issues you’d thought you’d resolved. You will have a whole new perspective after your break and those mistakes will jump out at you.

Time consuming? Oh yeah, but so wasn’t writing the novel. Consider that most agents and editors only give you one shot, then you want to make sure you’re putting your best work forward. I’d rather put a little extra time and work on the backside to make sure my one shot counts the most.

So you tell me: do you take a break when you finish your novel so you can step back and look at it with fresh eyes? Does it help when you do?

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About T. Frohock

Please visit my web site at: www.tfrohock.com
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17 Responses to hey, you! step away from that manuscript

  1. Kelly Bryson says:

    Hey- I’m about to start incorporating my trusty readers’ suggestions and will let you know how taking 2.5 weeks off has worked for me. I think time at the beach counts double time because the waves cleanse your mind of all thought. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. And I’ve read tons of books that I was too busy editing the previous few months to start. We’ll see.

  2. Jan O'Hara says:

    I’m stubborn, and my first tendency is to try and push through obstacles. But like you, I’d rather catch as many of the obvious errors on my own before inflicting them on my critiquers or readers. A break is the most effective means to come back to a piece with “fresh” eyes.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Jan, I’m like you, I want to push through it and get it finished. I thought the “fresh eyes” thing didn’t apply to me, but found a lot of mistakes after being away from it for a while. Alas, I am normal! 😉

  3. Thanks for the tips–very timely! I hope to be putting something like this into effect for the first time around the end of June.

  4. Marisa Birns says:

    Haven’t written a book yet but I do write short stories and do take a little break after I write one. Then, in addition to reading for editing, I read it aloud for flow.

    Excellent pre-submission tips for when I do have that manuscript. Thank you.

    • Teresa says:

      Hi Marisa, I think you’ve really mastered one of the hardest literary art forms, the short story. I’m going to try my hand at them again, but I’ve never had a lot of success with short stories. I always get so interested in the characters, they turn into novels!

      Even though I missed some errors reading aloud, your advice to read aloud for flow is dead on. I found a lot of clumsy phrases by reading aloud.

  5. kat magendie says:

    Yup, I take a lot, or version of, those steps. I also make sure I print out a copy to read – reading the printed version is always a different take from reading it on the computer screen -take my word for it!

    Some authors read their manuscripts aloud, but I’ve yet to do this – I think I will, and consider it, and then find I never do it, especially now with deadlines.

    Once you get to the “editing at the publishers” stage, there is a new wrinkle. The editor finds some things, so you go in and fix them, and meanwhile you find a few things you want to tweak, and then you have to worry whether when fixing or tweaking one thing, you created an error during that fix/tweak! lawd!

    • Teresa says:

      Hey, Kat! That already happens to me! I’ll fix or tweak something and create another error while doing it! I read mine out loud and STILL missed errors — oh, boy! My last beta reader has it now and she’s never laid eyes on anything other than chapter one . . . I’m keeping my fingers crossed . . . ;-D

  6. Great suggestions…!

    And I have just a bit more to add to Teresa’s and Marisa’s wise comments…

    Take what you ‘presume’ is the final draft, print it out and read it out loud, absolutely.
    But don’t just read it for sense or with the editor’s eye looking for errors:
    That’s right…pace across your living room, the worn carpet in your office… or churn the waters in the bath while you keep the pages from getting soaked and (simultaneously) give your ms that Lawrence Olivier spin.
    You will instantly hear (out loud and in the flesh) what is working and what is off.
    Yes, we’re writers–but more than we realize, the inner “auditory” reader/listener/enthralled audience member kicks in and this is the best way I know to not only catch errors but to make sure your readers will feel well rewarded. (Not necessarily with a happy ending, but with a satisfying read from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, scene to scene, and chapter to chapter and, au fin, when they close the covers of your book.)

    I believe it’s not just a question reading aloud to “listen” to dialogue or scenes we’ve written…because I’ve found there’s a lot of buried treasure…think about how we’ve all heard great poetry read aloud and have been duly engaged.

    So act, vamp, and let the emotion pour out when your read aloud; pretend you didn’t write it and you’re trying out for the local drama club….If what you intended in terms of mood or emotion isn’t there, you’ll hear it and can make your corrections easily.

    Give it a try!

  7. Kelly Bryson says:

    Haha. Lisa- that sounds like great advice, I will give it a try regardless of the strange looks I get!

  8. Kelly, you can always think of it as your big op to be Tallulah Bankhead or Elsa Lanchester or Joan Crawford or Bette Davis (etc.) Have fun!

  9. Teresa, not at all surprised! I bet you’ll have a blast! xoxo

  10. lawrenceez says:


    Very good advice. Because I’m working on more than three writing projects, I’ve been able to stand back from a novel for months at a time and return to the story in question with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what a little time away can do.

    Hope all is well with your writing, Teresa.

    • Teresa says:

      You should really try Lisa’s advice! That could be a post all its own. I can’t wait to try acting it out. My family already thinks I’m nuts, so this will be another lace in my straight-jacket, I guess. ;-D

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