Every writer should belong to a critique group or have a writing partner – preferably one who knows about editing – to take a look at each chapter and give feedback. You can’t give yourself a better path to clarity, because at some point you won’t be able to see what you’ve just written.
You can also hire a professional editor. Or two.
I’ve used several types of editors. One helped me with organization and content accuracy, such as being sure the Giants I wrote about were in the right city playing the correct kind of ball. She also made a wonderful suggestion to separate my novel in two parts and develop each one into books, related, of course, but divided.
Another one helped me with setting and character. She used the word “focus” a lot, as in bringing certain sections into sharper focus. She pointed out things that needed more details, like I’d left out important fine brush strokes. Her feedback helped me add a necessary richness to my words.
Still others read for goofs, skips, and hiccups. If the dog is green on page four and blue by page 27, you have some explaining to do. Not just the dog’s color, but why it changed.
Most writers see things in their heads they think are on the page, too. Sometimes the words just don’t get there, but an alert reader will see what’s missing.
The most important quality in an editor, especially if you meet with them in person, is good manners. No seriously, how are you going to hear honest, sensible critique if it’s presented in a way you find offensive? Your critiquer should have your best interests at heart, and not be waiting for a chance to show you how many mistakes s/he caught.
That said, a good reader should also be ruthless. If you’ve written crap, chances are, you suspect it, but sometimes you also need to hear from an outside source. “This isn’t up to your usual standard” is a reasonable euphemism for “Holy cow! What were you thinking?” Read between the lines and put on your big boy/girl undies to deal with it.
One writer once told me she wrote “print ready,” not “first draft” for all her books. She didn’t want to hear critiques and wouldn’t have believed them anyway.
If that’s you, good luck. You might as well stay home and kiss the mirror.
Cynthia J. Stone
Author of Mason’s Daughter, now available on Amazon