You’ve written your first draft and you’ve read it over, perhaps focusing on some particular aspects of writing (like using your pet words too much, or checking for “ly” words), and after rereading your manuscript until you think you could recite it from memory, you feel ready to publish.
Not so fast! First, let’s check for some common mistakes. In a novel I recently read, I was reminded of two kinds of errors that are easily overlooked.
One involves words left out, and the other, words left in.
Here are some examples.
Sometimes, as you re-read, you realize that you’ve used a character’s name too many times within a few sentences, or you might have used too many pronouns when you should have used a name once in a while. So you make some changes. Let’s say you’ve used the name too often, so you put in “her” instead of “Miss X,” but you don’t take out “Miss X” until you’ve had a chance to reread the whole section, checking for a good balance of names and pronouns.
You get into your self-editing and several pages later, you remember that you should read it all over. This is when the brain and the eyes start fighting. You’re already getting tired and as you read, your brain tells you, “I know what this is supposed to say. I wrote the thing. I know what it says.”
Your eyes tell your brain, “Yes, that’s what it says. I know because I’ve read it so many times already. It’s fine.”
But is it?
“Miss X” is mentioned several times in the chapter, but now, one of the sentences has “Miss X” AND “her” as well.
The road was rough and the driver reached over to check her Miss X’s seatbelt.
See how easily that slipped in there?
Very often, mistakes like this are added to the text with the purpose of fixing a problem, but it ends up causing a different one.
Correcting sentences where words have been left out is even harder to do. Again, our brains tell us what we know the text to be, and the eyes go along with it in agreement. But as we read work over too quickly, we think that all the necessary words are in there. That is how many small words are left out (words like: to, at, in, an, it). A good way to catch these omissions is to read your work out loud.
A similar error occurs when we type “and” for “an” or “it” for “if” or “in,”
A word of advice:
Don’t work at your self-editing for too long in one session. Take breaks. I have often noticed that when I find mistakes in the writing, they occur close together within a page or two. This tells me that the writer was probably getting tired at that point.