By Christine Carron
Are you familiar with this moment? The one where you have made all the big picture changes on a revision. And you have done multiple passes through the manuscript, reading and/or reading aloud, listening for musicality, for clunkiness, for awkwardness. Line-editing mode intensity, where there’s still lots of red-lining on the page where you are reworking phrases, sentences, whole paragraphs even.
But eventually the manuscript settles and you are ready for that last final pass. The one where you will (hopefully) only be correcting tiny continuity issues, catching the places where a word is missing, sleuthing out tiny punctuation snafus, etc. Basically, the moment where you know in your bones that you are ready for detailed proofreading. When I get to that moment, it always feels like ironing. Smoothing out those last pesky wrinkles in the manuscript. Hence, me calling that last pass the ironing pass.
I adore the ironing pass. There is something so satisfying about reading aloud page after page and only catching a blip here or there. The manuscript has finally calmed down, come together, become the best version of that version of the story.
I write it that way, best version of that version, because of course I am under no illusion that the manuscript will never change again, but I do like having my manuscripts as clean and error free as I can make them. Probably due to a long career in managing software development projects. A basic truth of software development is that it is much cheaper to fix errors (bugs) the earlier you catch them in the process.
So, yes, the ironing pass pleases both my storyteller sensibility and my project manager sensibility. But here’s the tricky bit: ironing passes also drive me crazy. There is always a part of me whispering, “Just skip this pass. You’ve read through this novel how many times already? It’s good. You're good. And don’t you want to be done? Skip it, skip it, skip it.”
Siren, dulcet, hypnotic tones that part of me has.
So I have to steel myself. Resist the longing to ditch that last pass. A pass where I know I won’t find much, but that not-much always turns out to be more than I expected. I have to have the patience and discipline to complete the slowest and most tedious of all of the revision passes.
An ironing pass requires focused intensity. A lot of focused intensity. I suspect every writer has their own process for keeping their brain on task. Along with limiting the number of pages I iron in a day, my process includes three basic steps:
Slash every word? Yes. I use a pencil to put a slash mark through each word. That helps my brain slow down and focus. Here is what it looks like using a page from this post as an example:
Sometimes I switch up between vertical, horizontal, and diagonal slashes, but in this example, I am in full vertical mode.
Once I was working on an ironing pass on a plane. After about fifteen minutes, the woman in the next seat stopped me and asked what I was doing. I explained and she looked relieved. She had worked up in her head that I was a teacher grading a student’s paper and had started to worry that I was going to traumatize said imaginary student with all the marks that I was putting on the page. No, ma’am, just ironing my story.
There are so many reasons to be happy, ecstatic even, when you get to the ironing pass. The bulk of the revision is done. The story is singing. And you are so, so, so close.
So close that a part of you will want to ship your story, get it out the door, be done with it already—i.e., skip that final pass. Resist!
Keep calm, and iron on.
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week