Tag Archives: editing your manuscript

Final Revisions #amwriting

The question came up in a professional Indie writers’ group I frequent on Facebook: Do I need to get an editor for my final manuscript or is a good proofread enough?

The overwhelming answer was a resounding “Yes!”

I am an editor but I always have my final manuscript edited by a professional editor, and I get a final proofread by members of my writing support group before I hit the publish button. As authors, we never see all our own mistakes although we catch many. We see what we intended to write rather than what is written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row. Our brain fills in the missing words and doesn’t notice when we use ‘its’ rather than ‘it’s,’ or ‘their’ rather than ‘they’re’ or ‘there.’

Also, we tend to overlook clumsy and inadvertently awkward phrasing.

  • Her eyes rolled over her host’s attire.
  • Delicious sounds assaulted his eardrums.

We overlook little things like those examples in our own work because we are visualizing the scene as we read it, and to us, they convey what we are thinking. We can’t see our own work with an unbiased eye, any more than we can see our children with an unbiased eye.

If you are unable to afford a full edit, and they are not cheap, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming. If you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.

To do a thorough revision of your manuscript:

  1. Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
  2. Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  3. Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  4. With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
  5. Look for
    • Typos,
    • Missing quotation marks,
    • Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.

Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.

Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”

  • Words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word – there-their-they’re, etc.
  • Look up “comma splice” and eliminate them from your manuscript.
  • Remove repetitions of entire ideas. If you explained it once, that was probably all you needed.
  • Check for repetitious use of certain key words and phrasing.
  • Eliminate all timid phrasing and remove unnecessary words. That and very are two words that can often be cut and not replaced with anything. Often cutting them makes a sentence stronger.

An editor points out and encourages you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.

To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.

  1. Open your manuscript on your computer and make your corrections.
  2. Repeat these steps with every chapter.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.

Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

Editors do more than point out comma errors–they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions.  They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or  keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to!

Be aware that it is not an edit if you have done it yourself–it is only a deep revision. The best we can do with our own work is to keep revising it until it is as clean as we can make it. (See my article of June 20, 2018 – Thoughts on Revisions and Self-editing.) Only an external eye can see our work with an unbiased eye and properly edit it. But with diligence and the assistance of your critique group, it is possible to make good revisions yourself and you can turn out an acceptable book that a casual reader will enjoy.

I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.

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Context and adverbs #amwriting

New writers embarking on the journey of learning the craft are bombarded with rules:

~Show, don’t tell,

~Simplify, simplify,

~Don’t write long sentences

~Avoid abstraction

~Don’t use big words.

These are necessary rules, but can be taken to an extreme. The most important rules are

~Trust yourself, and

~Trust your reader.

~Write what you want to read.

Whether you are self-editing or editing for another writer, it’s important to understand balance. Editing is a job that requires delicacy and dedication. It’s far too easy for a ham-fisted editor to remove the joy, the life, the author’s voice from a piece.

As writers, we all want to be accepted and have others like our work, but we owe it to ourselves to write from the heart.

Chuck Wendig, in his post The Danger of Writing Advice from Industry Professionals, says,

And so the advice really should be, don’t use adverbs or adjectives when they sound awkward, or when they fail to tell us something that we need to know.

We know that certain words and phrases don’t add to the narrative and only serve to increase the wordiness. Used too freely, they separate the reader from the experience.

For me, especially in my first draft, these words are like tics–they fall out of my fingers and into my keyboard randomly, and out of my voluntary control. I don’t self-edit as I go because at that point I’m just trying to get the story down. The second and third drafts are where I shape my grammar and phrasing.

All of my three current manuscripts are genre fiction. This means I must write active prose, so I don’t want to use words with no power behind them. However, I will not blindly remove every ‘ly’ word, because that would be ridiculous.

Consider adverbs, words that are sometimes reviled and banned by writing groups armed with a little dangerous knowledge. Descriptors frequently end with the letters ‘ly.’ I do a global search for these letters and a list will pop up in my left margin. My manuscript will become a mass of words with yellow highlighted “ly’s.” It’s a daunting task, but I look at each instance and see how they fit into that context. If they weaken the narrative, I change or remove them.

When it comes to adverbs, many times simply removing them strengthens the prose. If they are necessary, I leave them. As Chuck Wendig said, words like “later,” or “everywhere,” or “never” or “alone” are also adverbs.

Personally, I don’t see myself reading a book written with no adverbs whatsoever.

I seek out adverbs, descriptors, qualifiers, and other “weed words,” look at how they are placed in the context of the sentence, and decide if they will stay or go. Many will go, but some must stay.

Sometimes I feel married to a certain passage, but if it doesn’t add to the story, it must go to the outtakes file, my tears notwithstanding.

Before I bother a professional editor with my work, I want to make the process as smooth as possible. I seek out the words I would flag as an editor, making what is called a “global search.”

Caution: if you are hasty or impatient a global search can be dangerous and can mess up an otherwise good manuscript. Be aware: This is a boring, time-consuming task.

You can’t take shortcuts. If you get hasty and choose to “Replace All” you run the risk of making a gigantic mess of your work.

The word ‘very’ comes in for a lot of abuse in writing groups and writers’ chat rooms. Suppose you decide to simply eliminate every instance of the word “very” because you have discovered you overuse it. You open the navigation pane and the advanced search dialog box. In the ‘Replace With’ box you don’t key anything, thinking this will eliminate the problem.

Before you click ‘replace all’ consider three common words that have the letters v-e-r-y in their makeup:

  • Every
  • Everyone
  • Everything

Deleting every instance of ‘very’ could mess things up on an incredibly large scale.

If you have decided something is a ‘weed word,’ examine the context. Have you used the word “actually” in a conversation? If so, you may want to keep it, as dialogue must sound natural, and people use that word in conversation. If you have used it in the narrative to describe an object, it’s probably not needed.

Context is everything. Take the time to look at each example of the offending words and change them individually. You have already spent a year or more writing that novel, so why wouldn’t you take a few days to do the job right.

It’s unfortunate, but there is no speedy way to do this. Every aspect of getting your book ready for the reading public must be done with the human eye, patience, and attention to detail.

As I have mentioned before, editing programs are out there, some free, and some for an annual fee. Your word processing program has spell check which can help or hinder you. Grammarly is an editing program I use for checking my own work, but the problem is, these programs are unable to see the context of the work they are analyzing:

  • “The tea was cool and sweet, quenching her thirst.
  • Grammarly suggested replacing quenching with quenched.I have no idea why.

Context is defined as the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. 

A person with a limited knowledge of grammar will not benefit from relying on Grammarly or any other editing program for advice. This is because these programs operate by finite rules and will often strongly suggest you insert an unneeded article or change a word to one that is clearly not the right one for that situation. New writers should invest in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, and learn how grammar works.

Currently, at this stage in our technology, understanding context is solely a human function. Because context is so important, I am wary of relying on these editing programs for anything other than alerting you to possible comma and spelling malfunctions.

I don’t mind taking the time to visit each problem and resolve them one at a time. I see this as part of my job, just what an author does to make sure her work is finished to the best of her ability.


Credits and Attributions:

The Danger of Writing Advice from Industry Professionals, by Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds,  The Ramble, http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/12/12/the-danger-of-writing-advice-from-industry-professionals/  ©2017. Accessed 12 Dec 2017.

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#amwriting: don’t gut your novel

Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

This post has nothing to do with swords, but I felt one should be pictured, so here is Excalibur.

I have another novel in the editing process, one with many sections written before I embarked on my quest to discover how to write. I am now culling many unnecessary words and awkward phrases from the older sections.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know the word “that” is like a keyboard tic for me. I use it a lot in my personal speech, and it falls into my work with a little too much regularity. I thought I had them pretty well under control, but one doesn’t see one’s own work with eyes of the disinterested reader.

Because of this, my editor and I are now combing each section for words I can eliminate and still retain the flow of the narrative.

Yes, I know I claim to be an editor. But I am first and foremost a writer, so I do have an editor because an unbiased eye is critical to producing a good, tight, manuscript.

When it comes to eliminating the word “that,” it’s crucial you look at each instance of how it is used.  Sometimes, “that” is the only word for a given situation. If a particular idea can’t be conveyed any other way, for the love of Tolstoy, use it. Don’t gut your prose just because some online guru tells you ‘that’ is the devil. If you remove every instance of “that” you’ll end up with a mess on your hands.

And just so you know, “that” and “which” are not interchangeable so you can’t just change every instance of “that” to “which.”

“That” is a pronoun used to identify a specific person or thing observed by the speaker, a determiner, an adverb, and a conjunction.

  1. “That’s his dog on the curb.” (Identifier)
  2. “Look at that red car.” (Determiner)
  3. “I wouldn’t go that far.” (Adverb)
  4. “She claimed that she was married.” (Conjunction)

In the case of number 4, the sentence would be stronger without it. Most of the time, prose is made stronger when the word “that” is simply cut and not replaced with anything. I say most, but not all of the time. Use common sense and if a beta reader runs amok in your manuscript telling you ax “this and that,” examine each instance of what has their undies in a twist and try to see why they are pointing it out.

There are cases where only “that” will suffice. When do we use the word “that?” We use it when we have something called a ‘Restrictive Clause’:

Quote from Grammar Girl, “A restrictive clause is just part of a sentence that you can’t get rid of because it specifically restricts some other part of the sentence.”  She goes on to give a specific example of a restrictive clause: “Gems that sparkle often elicit forgiveness.”  See?  Not just any gems elicit forgiveness in this sentence. Only gems that sparkle bring about clemency. In this sentence, forgiveness is restricted to one kind of gem.

“Which” is a pronoun asking for information. It specifies one or more people (or things) from a particular set, and it is also a determiner:

  1. “Which are the best diapers for newborns?” (Pronoun)
  2. “I’m looking at a house which is for sale on Black Lake.” (Determiner)

Go lightly with “which” and “that” but use them when they are required.

keep clam and proofreadThe same common sense approach goes for “very.” I seldom need to use it, but I do when it’s required. However, some people employ it too frequently, and it’s rarely needed in the context they  place it, fluffing up the word count. As with every word, there are times when it’s the only one that will convey an idea crucial to your story.

Mark Twain had a perfect comment regarding overusing “very.”

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

I’d love to be that editor.

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What does “Submission-Ready” mean?

Gamalost-NorwegianOldCheeseI’m not talking bondage here, friends, so get your mind out of the erotica.

I’m talking about a manuscript with the potential to be made into something publishable.

I see a lot of manuscripts. Some are quite promising, some not so much. Literally anyone can write and publish a book nowadays, but not everyone can write a book others will want to read–THAT is a craft, and there are many who don’t feel the need to learn it before they submit their work to an editor or a publisher.  The quality of their work stinks like gamalost cheese, but they have the gall to wonder why the Big 6 haven’t snapped it up.

gibberish-american businesses onlineIt is important to learn the craft of writing, if you want readers to enjoy your work. Spend the time to learn the mechanics of the language you are writing in. However, if you are simply writing a pretentious pseudo-literary art piece, fine–go on and have at it–no one will ever read it, and you can feel superior for having written it. If you dare to compare yourself to James Joyce I will run you out of the writing group quicker than you can say Ulysses.

Before you submit your manuscript, take the time to make it submission-ready:

1. Properly format it: Set the indents, use a serif font of .11 or .12, double-space it with no extra space between the paragraphs, and do not justify it.

2. Hire an editor to help you straighten out the flaws YOU can’t see.

3. Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even  you.) If you skip this step, you will wait a year to hear that your ms has been rejected, and they won’t tell you why.  It’s not worth their time to teach you how to be a writer–you have to learn that on your own.

For a more in-depth description of this whole process, see my series “WORD-A Shifty Beast.”

learn something newTry to learn something new every day in your writing life, and with each success you have, try to keep some humility.  You will grow as an author, your work will remain fresh, and I will continue to beg to read it.

If you read the kind of work you want to write, you will gain inspiration from the masters in your genre. When I am not writing or editing, I am reading. And when I have the chance to read for pleasure, I read epic fantasy, paranormal fantasy and science fiction. When I find a book that rings my bells, I talk about it, and blog about it. Conversely, if I hated it, I never mention it again.

Yep–I’m that kind of a reader.

 

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It may be rattlesnake, but it tastes like chicken

MSClipArt MP900390083.JPG RF PDWriting the first draft of your novel is a lot of fun, but there are times when getting your phrasing right is confusing. Wrangling words is not for the faint of heart! Many frequently used words are what is called “homonyms” — soundalike words.

Yeah–you know that casserole contains rattlesnake surprise, but it tastes like chicken, so the kids haven’t a clue.

You as the author, do not always see the rattlesnakes among the chickens in your work.

You MUST NOT expect an editor to straighten out a mess that you can take of with a little attention on your part, so it is important to do your  research, and learn your craft. Submitting a mess to an editor will result in rejection, as it is an expensive waste of time to try to teach a would-be author how to write a book.

At times, only a homonym, a word that sounds very much like another, can be used in a sentence. That similarity makes it hard to know which word is the correct word in a given circumstance, and when you are spewing the first draft of a manuscript, autocorrect may “help you” by inserting the wrong instance of those words. If their meaning is similar but not exactly the same, negotiating the chicken-yard of your manuscript in the second draft becomes quite tricky.

For instance, take this sentence from my current work in progress, where Friedr is explaining the events that led to Christoph’s sacrifice, speaking to Dane: “With Zan’s assistance, Edwin modified the parasite that will ensure no Bear Dogs can ever survive in Mal Evol ever again…”

Now I wasn’t sure that ensure was the correct word to express what I wanted to convey, because there are three words that could work and they sound alike, and have similar but different meanings.  So I did my research:

Assure: promise, as in I assure you the house is clean.

Ensure: confirm, as in Ensure that you have set the burglar alarm before going on a long trip.

Insure: protect with an insurance policy, as in Insure your home for your peace of mind.

Hmmm.  2 of these words will convey an intent that would work, but I think I will stay with my original idea– Ensure as in Confirm.

 

Some other oft confused soundalikes are ( these are borrowed directly from the Purdue Online Writing Lab)

  • advise = verb that means to recommend, suggest, or counsel:

advise you to be cautious.

  • advice = noun that means an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done:

I’d like to ask for your advice on this matter.

  • advise = verb that means to recommend, suggest, or counsel:

advise you to be cautious.

  • advice = noun that means an opinion or recommendation about what could or should be done:

I’d like to ask for your advice on this matter.

Conscious, Conscience

  • conscious= adjective meaning awake, perceiving:

Despite a head injury, the patient remained conscious.

  • conscience = noun meaning the sense of obligation to be good:

Chris wouldn’t cheat because his conscience wouldn’t let him.

Idea, Ideal

  • idea = noun meaning a thought, belief, or conception held in the mind, or a general notion or conception formed by generalization:

Jennifer had a brilliant idea—she’d go to the Writing Lab for help with her papers!

  • ideal = noun meaning something or someone who embodies perfection, or an ultimate object or endeavor:

Mickey was the ideal for tutors everywhere.

  • ideal = adjective meaning embodying an ultimate standard of excellence or perfection, or the best:

Jennifer was an ideal student.

Its, It’s

  • its = possessive adjective (possessive form of the
    pronoun it):

The crab had an unusual growth on its shell.

  • it’s = contraction for it is or it has (in a verb phrase):

It’s still raining; it’s been raining for three days.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

Lead, Led

  • lead = noun referring to a dense metallic element:

The X-ray technician wore a vest lined with lead.

  • led = past-tense and past-participle form of the verb to lead, meaning to guide or direct:

The evidence led the jury to reach a unanimous decision.

Than, Then

Than used in comparison statements: He is richer than I.
used in statements of preference: I would rather dance than eat.
used to suggest quantities beyond a specified amount: Read more than the first paragraph.
Then a time other than now: He was younger then. She will start her new job then.
next in time, space, or order: First we must study; then we can play.
suggesting a logical conclusion: If you’ve studied hard, then the exam should be no problem.

they're their there cupTheir, There, They’re

  • Their = possessive pronoun:

They got their books.

My house is over there.

(This is a place word, and so it contains the word here.)

They’re making dinner.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

To, Too, Two

  • To = preposition, or first part of the infinitive form of a verb:

They went to the lake to swim.

  • Too = very, also:

I was too tired to continue. I was hungry, too.

  • Two = the number 2:

Two students scored below passing on the exam.

Twotwelve, and between are all words related to the number 2, and all contain the letters tw.

Too can mean also or can be an intensifier, and you might say that it contains an extra o(“one too many”)

We’re, Where, Were

  • We’re = contraction for we are:

We’re glad to help.

(Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

Where are you going?

(This is a place word, and so it contains the word here.)

  • Were = a past tense form of the verb be:

They were walking side by side.

Your, You’re

  • Your = possessive pronoun:

Your shoes are untied.

You’re walking around with your shoes untied.

(REMEMBER: Pronouns have apostrophes only when two words are being shortened into one.)

Special thanks to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for posting these amazing hints, and SO much more information crucial to the craft of writing. If you go out to their website you will find it chock full of really good lessons for you to use to improve your skill at the craft of writing.

to, too, twoIt seems like a no brainer when you are reading it, but when you’re in the throes of a writing binge these little no-no’s will pop up and confuse you the second draft. The problem is, you will see it as you intend it to be, not as it is written, so these are words you must pay attention to. Sometimes, doing a search will locate these little inconveniences.

Some are obviously wrong and stick out like sore thumbs, like improperly used they’re, their, and there but some like accept and except are so frequently confused and misused in our modern dialect that it is best to simply look it up to make sure you are using the right word for that context. If you search for these now, you will save your editor having to do this for you, and your edit will be much more productive.

Searching for these bloopers is what I like to think of as sorting the rattlesnakes out of the chicken yard, and is part of making your manuscript submission-ready.

 

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