Easy Steps to Polish That Draft!

by Jeffe Kennedy

November 1st signaled the start of a month of intense novel writing for many people: the onset of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

For me, it was Deadline Day for the second book in my Twelve Kingdoms trilogy. I pulled it tighter than I’d like. I finished the draft by mid-September and let it “cool” for two weeks, while I worked on developmental edits for the first book in the series. That worked out great, because I finished revising book 1 and went straight into revising book 2. Terrific opportunity to check my continuity and tighten the overall series arc.

From there it took 18 days to finish that revision – longer than I’d wanted, for reasons that aren’t clear to me. It just went slowly. That meant I got the manuscript to my critique partners (CPs) on October 16. Amazingly, they have lives and deadlines of their own, so I didn’t get comments from them until October 30. (Although they did send notes in the interim, telling me that it was awesome and they’d have no major issues – always a relief to hear.)

All of this means I spent a LOT of time on the 31st and 1st, incorporating their comments and doing my final polish. I have a list, actually, (which should surprise no one who knows me) of stuff to check for before I send the manuscript to my editor. It looks like this:

  1. Search for []
  2. Search for “now”
  3. Search for “just”
  4. Search for double space
  5. Search for “like”
  6. Search for “back”
  7. Wordle
  8. Replace towards with toward
  9. Search for actions as dialogue tags.
  10. Search for overused dialogue tags.

These are tailored specifically for Jeffe’s Writing Tics – the bad habits that creep into my writing. Everyone needs to learn their own tics. Mine are most frequently “now” and “just.” As in, “just kill me now.” The [ ] are because, when I’m drafting, I sometimes place [words] in brackets to check later. It’s usually when I can’t think of the word I want, or if I need to go online to research something – which I’m not allowed to do while drafting or revising. The final search is to make sure I got them all.

With “now,” you’ll see from my note above that I used it 280 times in 382 pages. That’s not nearly as badly as I’ve done on other books. I note the page numbers, then try to break up the clusters. I’m funny that way – I’ll go six pages without using it, then sprinkle four on one page. Searching for “just,” I found 215 instances – not too bad! But I deleted or altered 134 of them.

Double spaces tend to creep in, so I do a quick s/r (search and replace) for those. “Back” is another of my tics – 244 occurrences were trimmed by 115. This time around “like” turned out to be the monster in the closet. 403 instances! I killed 129 of those.

Wordle: UntitledThen I check Wordle. If you don’t know it, it’s a fun – and effective! – way to check for overused words. Here’s mine for this book (post-polishing), if you want to see. In my first iteration, “know” popped up pretty ENORMOUS. I did a search for it and ended up eliminating 107 of 270 occurrences. It’s still pretty big, but at least no longer dominates.

The rest are pretty self-explanatory. I add to the list as time goes on – especially if one of my editors gets cranky about something. One of my editors has fits over me using actions as dialogue tags. Not that I can’t, but I tend to punctuate them wrong and, while she corrects them, she worries we’ll miss some. Fair enough.

I tweeted some of these as I was working, especially the phrase found in my “like” search that made me want to pound my forehead on the keyboard. The editor waiting for this book chimed in.

I loved his hashtag.  And, I thought, he’s right. So I decided to share with all of you, too.

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Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.  A contemporary e-Serial, Master of the Opera, will be released in January. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves in 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology. Her newest book, Five Golden Rings, comes out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.

 

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About Jeffe Kennedy

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera, which released beginning January 2, 2014. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and a fifth, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, will release starting in July. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Foreword Literary.

14 thoughts on “Easy Steps to Polish That Draft!

  1. Patricia Stoltey

    Excellent post, Jeffe. You’ve channeled my own editor who recently informed me I still have a few bad habits, gave me word counts for my most repeated words, and asked when I got in the habit of having all my characters shrug and nod…a lot. My list of things to check during the self-editing process “just” grew a lot longer.

    Reply
    1. Jeffe Kennedy

      Thanks Patricia! I guess habits are habits, huh? Shrugging, nodding and stepping are things I’ve gotten better at removing as I go. Eesh!

      Reply
  2. Rhenna Morgan

    So glad to hear I’m not the only one with a list. But man, it sure comes in handy for doing a thorough edit. God knows I can’t remember all the ticks I’ve uncovered in my writing.

    Reply
    1. Jeffe Kennedy

      It’s weird, Rhenna – I replied to this when I replied to Patricia and Jim. I wonder what happened to it?? Anyway, I agree – my list is a crucial tool. Glad you agree!

      Reply
  3. Julie Luek

    I loved this specific how-to for checking errors and repetitions in our writing. I know… I KNOW.. I have many I over use, even in my short essays. Aughg– love this going to share.

    Reply
  4. Samantha Ann King

    Yep. Double spaces, towards, like. Plus know, feel and I have a list that I haven’t memorized … yet. Oh yeah. Ellipses.

    Reply

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