That well-rested manuscript I had once declared finished...well...it wasn't. Even though I pitched the novel to an editor at a writers' conference in March, something held me back from sending a partial. It was tiny Nagging Whisper who told me: "It's not ready."
Nagging Whisper has a thin face with a pointed chin and sharp little nose. She disapproves of my writing habits, and doesn't hesitate to criticize, but I put up with her because she's very wise.
I set Wishing Caswell Dead aside and wrote the first draft for a new novel (which is now resting while I do other stuff).
Four months after that conference pitch session, Nagging Whisper made a suggestion. "Go back to the Caswell novel. Change main character Jo Mae's point of view to third person."
"I'm listening," I said.
"Keep Jo Mae's voice in her narrative."
"Wow, that could be a little tricky." Well, maybe not. To a certain extent, I had already done that for the other characters' point of view chapters. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
"I'm not finished," Nagging Whisper hissed. She can be a little testy if she thinks I'm not paying attention. "Comb through the whole novel again. Look for overused words, passive verbs, and overlong passages of narrative."
"That's silly. I know that stuff. I teach courses on self-editing, for Pete's sake."
Nagging Whisper snorted. Then she cleared her throat. "Frankly, I would never have known. Your manuscript is full of stupid little errors. Maybe you should hire a real editor."
Fearing I'd be totally embarrassed to give my work to a real editor if it was as bad as Nagging Whisper said, I decided to revise and then self-edit one more time. I made the changes from first person to third person in the Jo Mae chapters. And then I read the first chapter out loud.
Overused words (real, just, some, surely, and right) jumped off the pages and waved frantically to get my attention. How had I missed them before? Gerunds and passive verbs were sprawled everywhere, most bored, but some even snoring. Impossible. That's not the way I write. Passages of narrative begged for dialog. What was I thinking?
Even though the waving, snoring and begging from the pages of my novel are annoying, I want to thank Nagging Whisper for persuading me to let the manuscript sit on the shelf instead of rushing to submit too soon. And I'd like to give her a hug for suggesting I work on the main character's point of view.
I'm getting the work done. It feels great. This is why I recommend:
1. Listen to Nagging Whisper (or Muse or Spirit or whatever you call her...or him).
2. Always let your manuscript rest several weeks before you do your final self-edit. A couple of weeks is not enough.
3. If you plan to self-publish, hire a professional editor to fine-tune your work before you proceed, even if you think it's perfect.