In finishing the first draft of The Wisewoman, the final book in my Waterspell trilogy, I learned things that I hadn’t fully understood before, about the world where my fantasy is set. To ensure consistency across the three books, I’ve had to go back and reread books one and two, The Warlock and The Wizard.
Both of those manuscripts have been in existence awhile now. (I’m a slow writer and a painstaking reviser, and I care too much about this story to rush it.) My challenge, as I curled up with Book One again, was to see it with fresh eyes.
The solution I hit upon is working out remarkably well: I reformatted the manuscript with 1.7-inch margins, which creates a line length of about 5 inches. I changed the line spacing from 2 to 1.5. And perhaps most importantly, I changed the font from Times New Roman to Book Antiqua 12-point.
The result, when printed out (on buff paper to simulate the yellowed pages of an old book), looks a whole lot like unbound galley proofs. I’m not reading a manuscript anymore. I’m now reading a typeset book.
Psychologically, this is having a profound influence on my manner of reading. I’m not looking at the work as an editor who’s line-editing a manuscript. I’m viewing it as a reader would see it.
And surprisingly enough (given how many times I’ve been through the manuscript already), my new perspective as a reader is showing me some unnecessary prepositional phrases and even the odd adjective or adverb that can still stand to come out. I’m reading quickly, the way a reader charges ahead when devouring a fast-paced action story. The quick pace of my reading throws a spotlight on any word or phrase that doesn’t need to be there.
This experience is underscoring, for me, the wisdom of Elmore Leonard’s 10th Rule for Writing Fiction: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” When I approached my book as a reader instead of a writer or an editor, it became easier for me to see exactly which parts a typical reader might really tend to skip over.
The fresh perspective I’ve gained from changing my manuscript to look like an actual typeset book also proved the value of this advice from hypnotherapist Milton Erickson (quoted in the London Times):
“Change will lead to insight far more often than insight will lead to change.”