Sonder Tips | Three Simple Steps to Tidy Up Your Manuscript
Welcome to Sonder Tips! This is the spot where our editors share their best advice and ideas to help you write/edit/design/publish the best version of your work. This edition, our Founder and Executive Editor brings you her three top thoughts when it comes to putting that final polish on your nearly-there piece.
Whether I’m editing a piece for Sonder, or a piece of my own, these are the three things that I utilize most often, and try to keep foremost in my mind, when tackling the task of developing that elusive final draft.
1. Read it Aloud: This is one of the most important steps for me when it comes to prepping a piece to send out or submit. The language itself – the rhythm, the tone and structure – is an integral part of any piece of prose, or any form of the written word, really. And the best way to feel this – to suss out any stumbling blocks – is to speak it; feel the physical form, the presence and resonance, of those words. Reading your work aloud will slow you down, stop your brain (and its intimate knowledge of the work) from sliding blindly past the minutia – the punctuation and spelling and wording errors – and, even more importantly, it will allow you to really feel the cadence of the writing, the areas where it flows just right, and those where it needs to be smoothed out or rendered more clearly.
2. Kill Your Darlings: We’ve all heard this one before, but it no less pertinent for that. When it comes down to it, when I really look at my work with an objective eye (and some very necessary distance!) I find that it is most often the moments, phrases, or wordings which I fell in love with – those I thought brilliant and delicately conceived, shaped and coaxed with care and agonizing hours – that are ultimately the culprits, making the writing feel overly contrived or confounding or stale. As painful as it can be to lose something, be it a word or description or even an entire section, it is my humble opinion that it is a band-aid better ripped swiftly off. Ultimately, bringing that clearer, cleaner eye to your work will make it significantly stronger and you’ll realize that the true darlings of your writing were the ones the fell from you without thought.
3. Say What You Mean: In all of my editorial work, possibly my most frequent comment peppering the margins is tighten. This step is one which really sits hand in hand with killing those darlings and, truly, your work will be able to breathe much better without all of the clutter. Tightening your work, reading it with a critical eye, is absolutely necessary for a pristine final product. This is two-fold. One: the reader is not a thesaurus, dictionary, nor decipherer. That is to say, use intelligent, sophisticated language but not obscure, archaic word choices – no one wants to see your fancy pants. Two: if you’re talking around something, you’re in trouble. It isn’t that writing shouldn’t be complex, it just shouldn’t be so unnecessarily.
Ultimately, every choice you make in your writing should be purposeful, thoughtful and direct – vital to the ultimate point of the piece – and if you keep this as your focus, these steps should fall right into place.