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  • Writer's pictureDavid Darling

Manuscript Blindness

The first question that would leap to mind for most, "What is manuscript blindness?"

One analogy that comes to mind is searching for a puzzle piece. You have a thousand puzzle pieces spread out on a tabletop, and you are trying to find a specific one. After several minutes of staring, they all start to look the same, and it isn't easy to find a match.

The same thing applies to your novel or work that you are trying to find errors or ways to improve. I have gone over sections of a story over a dozen times, attempting to spot mistakes (grammar to punctuation, etc.) without success. After running spellcheck and other programs, nothing is apparent. So, in my mind, that paragraph or chapter should be good. Right? This is where the term Manuscript Blindness becomes more apparent.

There are a few solutions to spotting errors, and most are relatively simple. Can you self-edit your work? To a certain extent, the answer is yes! Should you be the only one to edit your work? No. Same reasoning behind searching for a puzzle piece. Your eyes skip over an area, and you cannot 'see the forest for the trees.' A second person reading your work is best. Top of the list is an editor. That is their primary job—to look for errors that the author was unable to see. Such errors are not just grammar or punctuation, but inconsistencies within your work, over-used phrases, and redundancies. (i.e., It was twelve midnight) or (Mark knelt down and placed the item in his own pockets). At midnight it is twelve o'clock. Mark knelt down. He couldn't have knelt up or in another direction, and own is usually implied for pockets. Unless he were to place the item in someone else's pocket, it isn't needed.

An editor isn't the only method to spot errors, and authors use Beta Readers to help achieve the same results. However, most beta readers are there to find inconsistencies within a story and are not grammar experts. One other method I like to use is time. If I write a chapter, I usually go back and reread it the next day. I will usually find errors and problems that I couldn't spot at the time of writing. One of my issues is tense. (Carol ran down the hall and skidded to a stop as she was aiming her weapon) There are so many problems with that sentence that (now) it makes me shudder. However, when I first started to write, it looked normal.

Going back and editing your work is also a double-edged sword. If you get caught up in editing, you will never get any writing done. Some authors will spend a whole day writing just three pages, but it is nearly perfect when they are done. Others can write over five-thousand words per day (or an entire novel in a month), but they will spend twice that time going over edits.

Writers need to learn how to manage their time and energy on their work. With that in mind, I like to spend some time editing as I am writing, but I don't let it detract me from the primary goal of finishing a novel. Experience comes into play as well. I do not make errors that I used to make on my first novel while I am writing my sixth novel. However, the same problem of manuscript blindness applies. I can spend months editing, but in the end, I will need a second (or third) set of eyes to help find errors.

To err is human. Some of the most prominent authors have published mistakes within their manuscript. From an improper use of their, there, or they're to something simple as a missed comma. I have recently read a world selling top author's novel, and the chapter title was Switzarland. Yes, it was printed and published with that spelling mistake. It was missed by the author, editor, initial readers, the publisher's proofreader, and countless others.

To avoid manuscript blindness, as a writer, try a few of the suggestions. An editor is invaluable and required. I have heard of a few writers that have only self-edited their work, and after reading, it is apparent. I hope this information will help some and that it was of interest to others.

David Darling

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