Got all the gaps worked out of your story? What about the gaps in your text?

I’m justifying this post. By that I mean I’m aligning it to both right and left margins, as opposed to proclaiming a valid reason for its existence. Whether its existence has a valid reason I leave to its readers to decide.

I don’t usually justify posts. It’s an extra button to click, and what blogger has time for that? More to the point, justifying makes the edges of the text look nice, but it can leave the interiors of lines looking like they’ve withstood an artillery barrage. Look closely at the lines of this text and you will probably see some in which there appears to be extra space between words. If it’s just a little extra space, it shouldn’t be a big deal, but congregations of longer, inflexible words do create distracting instances of overabundant space.

Justification?

Incautious justifying can make text feel as cozy as this attractive, war-zone home.

I’m justifying this text to illustrate one of the more tedious parts of self-publishing. For those who have never formatted the layout of a book, it may be enlightening. For those planning to dip their feet into self-publishing, it may be something to consider.

Publishing is not all about telling a great story with proper grammar. Those things will get you off to a good start, but you also want an aesthetically pleasing product. No doubt, the cover should be attractive, but the interior’s visual appeal can’t be ignored.

I’ve never opened a book and thought, “Wow, this interior layout is gorgeous!” But I have seen books where the layout’s ugliness is a distraction. One common distraction is large gaps between words.

I know of three ways to avoid gaps. The first is to not justify the text. I would never do this; blog posts are one thing, but in books I think it looks disorganized. The second is to allow your writing program to auto-hyphenate. This breaks up big words so everything fits better. Some experts suggest this, but I don’t do it. One thing I stunk at in grade school was hyphenating. I don’t trust Word to do it for me, mostly because I doubt my ability to double-check it. It’s merely opening up another Pandora’s box of grammar issues.

The third way, my way, is to endure a round of tedium beyond normal editing. Editing is not fun, and this, if possible, is even less fun. I scan the proof copy for unacceptable gaps. Then I play a little puzzle game with that line and the adjacent ones, rearranging, cutting, or substituting words until the gaps are squeezed out.

It takes time, but it makes me take a closer look at the words I use. It helps me eliminate unnecessary words and say things in a clearer way. The key is to avoid ruining sentences to make them fit better. It wouldn’t be such a vexing game if this were allowed.

This should only be done once all the major editing is completed. New editing could create new gaps.

Gaps in some lines will still be greater than gaps in others, but if the gaps don’t resemble bomb craters it will be easier for the reader to focus on the words instead of the holes.

Ending obsession

Here we go again. It’s phase three of the A Housefly in Autumn remodel. As I predicted, between rewriting the middle and obsessing over the beginning, I’ve come to that time when I feel compelled to tweak the ending.

The good news is that it’s only the last couple of paragraphs I want to redo. The bad news is that those last two paragraphs contain a mother lode of tone. That’s not bad news in itself; it’s only bad news when you want to change them. It’s like changing whole pages at the beginning or whole chapters in the middle.

For the beginning, the concern is drawing readers in. At the middle, the worry is keeping them. The finale needs to hit just the right note. I think my previous note was a little flat and I’m trying to sharpen it up a bit.

When they are the last two paragraphs, two paragraphs can seem like a mountainous rewrite. It certainly has taken me more time than any two other paragraphs ever have. I’m still not completely satisfied, but at least I’m moving in the right direction.

On the bright side, I don’t have to count this late alteration as a self-induced delay to publication. This time I got smart and started obsessing about something while I was still waiting for my expert proofers to finish reviewing their copies. By the time they are done, this behemoth, two-paragraph rewrite should be complete.

At that point, I can feel good that I’ve given beginning, middle, and end their fair shares of obsessing and overthinking. The book will be as good as I can make it, lacking another 20 years’ worth of wisdom, for which I am not willing to wait.

What I'd look like after 20 more years of wisdom. Looks like I'd have a great story to tell doesn't it? Should we just wait?

What I’d look like after 20 more years of wisdom. Looks like I’d have a great story to tell, doesn’t it? Should we just wait?

It may seem like I’ve been talking about this book for 20 years already, but that’s just not true. I’ve been working on this book for 20 years (probably a mere 18, but who’s counting?). I’ve only been talking about it publicly for, well, far shorter than that.

Even so, I realize it may seem like I’ve been posting about this book for a long time without actually producing something like a book. No one feels this incongruity more keenly than I do. But no one sees the light at the end of the tunnel more clearly than I do. I am two short paragraphs away from concluding that it is what it is. Then all who are so inclined may judge for themselves whether I should have waited for 20 years more wisdom.

At that point, I can turn all my worries toward marketing. Marketing has been known to make me whine like a first grader with liverwurst on pumpernickel in his lunch box. Now that’s something to look forward to. Stay tuned.