Every writer has his/her own process of writing a book. From start to finish it usually takes me, more or less, about a year to complete. I have crudely calculated that I read and reread that book some eighty times. This can be tedious, arduous, annoying but, trust me, necessary.
In the course of my re-reading, I discover big mistakes and small ones. I also discover the need for easy changes, and hard ones. I make minor plot changes (someone’s name) and major ones. (The first draft of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, had no cross in the story.) I enhance the quality of the text. I look for places to cut. “Less is more.” Since my research is on-going, that research can lead to changes. Such was the case for Crispin. I was in London doing research and in the British Museum (Medieval Section) saw a display of crude lead crosses handed out during the Great Plague. Back to the book.
But there are a number of things I do that help me re-read my work with a bit of objectivity.
- I put the work aside for a while. The longer the better. But this is also very hard because I have deadlines, and I’m more than anxious to get the work done. (That’s when I get paid.)
- The Computer—upon which I work—helps a great deal. I change the look of the manuscript. I change the font. I change the margins. I change the background color. Light blue, light green, light purple.
- I arbitrarily choose a page or section and work on it at random, thereby pulling the book out of context.
- I read the book to someone. I do so with pen in hand and make notes as to my own reaction.
- I read the book to a class of young people, the ones for whom the book is written.
- I run the text though a number of spelling and grammar checkers. They never fully agree and I’m forced to look at everything they highlight.
- Checking for word duplication helps a lot.
- I give the book to a trusted friend and listen to a critique. Never argue!
- Of course my editor reads the book (multiple times, too) and always (each time) has suggestions for good changes.
- The publisher has copy editors and they can and do make simple suggestions, but not infrequently complex ones.
And then, and then, the year’s work is done. The book is published. BUT—a month after a book’s publication a reader sends me a note: “Dear Avi. On page 217 there is a typo. A word has been left out. It should read………….”
Yes, friends, it’s that eighty-first re-reading that makes the difference. Should have done it.