Definition of POLISH from Merriam-Webster online
- : to make (something) smooth and shiny by rubbing it
- : to improve (something) : to make (something) better than it was before
Step 3 – Polish
The third and final step in revising a manuscript in three steps (Revise-Edit-Polish) may not include rubbing, exactly, but the goal of Step 3 – Polish is to produce clean copy. In the publishing industry, “clean copy” means error free.
Ideally, in Step 1 – Revise, you repaired structural weaknesses, plugged holes, built tension, revealed character growth, moved the plot from an engaging beginning to an exciting climax, and provided a satisfying and logical story for your reader.
Ideally, in Step 2 – Edit, you evaluated the narrative sentence by sentence and allowed good grammar and a pleasing style to give the story its own special voice and sound.
Ideally, in Step 3 – Polish, you will go through the manuscript one final time to make sure every plotline is closed, every false suspect is cleared, every character with red hair remains a redhead, and every word is spelled correctly, every i dotted and every t crossed.
Although this post is about the final step in the 3-part revision plan, this does not necessarily mean your story will be ready for submission. Perhaps it will. Perhaps you will run it by a beta reader. Perhaps you will hire an independent editor.
These three steps are to guide you to working on your own. It is my belief that, circumstances permitting, you should treat your MS to these three steps before you send to a beta reader or independent editor, or agent. These three steps will help you get the MS to the best shape YOU, the author, can reach with on your own, with your single set of eyes.
If you work with a critique group and submit weekly or monthly, I think this system will work for chapters and scenes. Before each partial submission of a draft, Revise-Edit-Polish to save your critique partners from reviewing raw or rough material.
You would do this ideally. Remember–this is not the only way to revise. It is a way to revise.
What does the Polish step do?
Each of these three steps has a specific purpose:
Step 1 – Revise is to strength the story as a whole.
Step 2 – Edit is to insure the words are correctly and pleasing put together.
Step 3 – Polish is a final look to judge if all errors and weaknesses are caught and repaired.
Revise looks at the broad landscape of the story. Edit looks at the smaller pieces of scenes and sentences. Polish looks at words—word by word by word.
For Step 3 – Polish, you will want to examine your pages with sharpest eye—at a time when your eyes are pretty tired of it! At this point, you may be suffering from Manuscript Fatigue Syndrome: the inability to “see” the details of your story because you’ve rewritten, tinkered, cut, pasted, and corrected it to the point of mental blindness.
With up to 100,000 words to examine, one by one, mental and visual fatigue are no joke. How can you help yourself see the words with fresh eyes for Step 3 – Polish?
In Step 1 – Revise, I noted that the work could be done on paper or by screen. In this step, changing your vision in a concrete way may help you see it more clearly. Here are some ways to do this:
~ If you have been working online, print out the manuscript and red pencil it.
~ If you have been working on paper, review the manuscript online.
~ Change your physical location: go to a library, coffee shop, your basement, a hotel for the weekend.
~ Change the background color of the manuscript.
~Change the size of the font, or change the font.
~ Read it aloud.
~ On paper, place a ruler below each line to keep your eyes train on one line at a time.
What are you looking for?
A clean and polished manuscript goes beyond finding typos.
As you read with your sharpest eye, look for:
Technical/mechanical errors: typos, omitted words, single/double quotation marks, ellipsis/dash errors, missing punctuation, dialogue tag errors.
Continuity: Unless a change occurs within the story, characters should have the same name, hair color, job title, number of siblings, pets, address, etc. throughout the story.
Redundancies: Each sentence should offer a unique bit of information. Once the information is shared, such as identifying Sgt. Wilkes as your police character’s boss, you do not need to ID Sgt. Wilkes as the boss again. An exception to this is if the character appeared so briefly, you think the reader needs a reminder.
Word Choice: Are verbs as precise and as strong as they can be? Are adjectives employed for a specific purpose, and not because you want your writing to sound pretty?
Repetition: Check for words or phrases in close proximity. If “she made up her mind” in one paragraph, in the next paragraph she might decide, vow, promise, instead of “she made up her mind” again. Also look for individual words used twice in the same sentence or paragraph. Variety is good.
Clarity: Is every sentence clearly written to convey an easily discernible thought? Is the wording smooth, without awkwardness?
Sentence Variety: Six word sentences are very easy. They can do an okay job. After a while they get dull. The sentences’ sounds will be blah. Your head will bob like a duck’s. You will soon want a nap. Please give your sentences some variety.
Likewise: Pausing at the door, she felt in her pocket for the key. Checking down the hall for Zeke, she slipped inside the apartment. Holding her breath, she made sure no one was in the TV room. She tiptoed down the hall, stopping at each open door. She went into the kitchen, pulling the phone off the hook as she went by. She opened the oven, sticking her head inside after reading so many boring sentences.
Transitions: Do paragraphs and scenes segue naturally forward? Do you use transitions—later, meanwhile, after a while, a week later, post-lunch—to jump ahead when necessary?
Grounding: Is it clear in every scene who is where and where is where?
Extraneous words: Are you adding to the word count, but not to the content, by overloading the writing with deadwood? Cut out just, very, somehow, that, was, then, suddenly, and so on. Don’t forget pleonasms: the up in walked up the stairs, and the down in descended down the stairs.
Your writerly habits: Every writer has favorite words, turns of phrase, quirks and style giveaways. This may make your writing unique, but it can also become repetitive with overuse. If you can hear or recognize a habit, that means you are overdoing it.
Can you stop now? Please?
After Revise-Edit-Polish, this is probably the question you’d love to ask, and have answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Well, sorry, the answer is “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Where you go from here depends on you. No matter if you send this manuscript to a beta reader for feedback, a critique group for review, a professional editor for strengthening, or an agent for consideration, revising through these three steps of Revise-Edit-Polish will give you a stronger, tighter, more coherent, and cleaner work.
Because your work is worth it, right?