Years of editing others’ work taught me that even good writers can’t see their own mistakes, particularly the big ones. Years of editing my own work proved I’m as fallible as other writers.
I also learned to guard against one particular problem in my own writing: failing to go far enough in fixing a problem. If I write a scene wrong the first time around, for example, my first or second revision may not get it right. So after I’ve completed a draft with advice from my chapter-by-chapter critiquers and revised accordingly, I ask two to four people to read the manuscript as though it were a book they checked out of the library.
I don’t ask these readers about specific things that may be wrong. That draws their attention to a single aspect rather than the whole. Instead I ask a few general questions, including the following.
Did you become bored anywhere?
Did anything confuse you?
When did you know who done it?
Could you keep the characters straight?
If you’d checked this out of the library, would you have finished it? If not, where would you have stopped reading.
Most people ignore these questions until after they’ve read the manuscript. And sometimes forever. That’s fine with me. Whatever feedback I receive is helpful.
While they’re reading, I take a mental vacation from the book. In the last stages of the first draft and in the immediate follow-up revision, I think about the manuscript day and night. I need to distance myself from it so that I can come back with a fresh, more objective view.
Doing something completely different helps. A change of environment, as in a short trip, works well. During this lull before the tackling the final draft, I’ve been updating my website, working on my neglected lawn, and preparing a book talk.
One reader’s report has come in. The manuscript reads fast, the complicated plot doesn’t confuse, the characters are distinctive. As usual, however, I still have one important problem to fix in the final draft.