Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Take Your Time and Do it Right

As head coach of UCLA's basketball team, John Wooden won ten NCAA national championships in a twelve-year period. Well known for the short inspirational messages he used to encourage his players, some consider the above quote to be one of his finest pieces of advice.

How can we apply Wooden's advice to our writing?

Focused on completing a project and submitting it to a publisher, writers can forget the importance of taking the time to do it right — yours truly stands guilty as charged. Expect cruddy first drafts. We frequently hear, just get it out. While that is true, don't rush editing.

Not all writers are fans of editing. You're forced to kill your darlings, tighten your prose, remove passive voice, switch out weak adverbs for strong verbs, and a litany of other instructions that threaten to make your head ache. Self-editing is a learned art form. I'm still in class. It's way more rewarding to edit someone else's manuscript.

Speaking of working with editors, this might shock you: if your editor asks you to go over a chapter for the third time, it's because she believes so much in your story she wants it to be even better than you think it can be. The word choice, the sentence structure, and the way a chapter ends can be the difference between a reader turning the page and putting a book down unfinished. An editor is part of a team dedicated to preparing your manuscript for publication.

So, what can an author do to help?

Don't rush self-editing

My technique is:
  • Take the cruddy first draft and pretend it doesn't exist for a month.
  • First round of edits: read it aloud to pick up inconsistencies and typos.
  • Second round of edits: improve word choice, correct grammar, and reduce repetition.
  • Third round of edits: focus on punctuation to make sure it's right.
  • Ignore the final draft for a day or two and then read it aloud again to make sure you didn't miss any glaring errors.
Write a great query letter

The dreaded query letter. Can you imagine my eyes rolling into my head? Writer's Digest has a great list of dos and don'ts for this. You can find it here. Two hundred fifty to three hundred fifty words doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Practice makes perfect.

Once your manuscript is accepted, be open-minded

Publishers understand this is your baby. When a publisher accepts your manuscript, they see its potential. Be open to your editor's suggestions. Step back and be objective. Embrace the process, even when it seems to take a long time. That time will be well worth it!

Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of four children’s books including, A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at and her children’s book blog at