Those Blue Pencil Blues

What’s that about a blue pencil? It’s the traditional implement of editors, dating from the days of paper manuscripts. Yes, I’m dealing with editing today—your editing.

That’s right. You must edit your own work before submitting it. Attack it with all the dispassionate, ruthless vigor you can. Hack, cut, and tweak until you fashion it into a story that makes you proud. Only that will make it publishable.

I’ve discussed editing before, but have learned more since then. I read the book Getting the Words Right, 39 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Theodore A. Rees Cheney, and recommend it as a great rulebook for editing. The folks at The Write Life blogged about 25 tips for editing, then put those tips into a handy checklist form.

That checklist contains many items that aren’t problems for me and left out things that are, and that got me thinking how editing is an individual thing. Each of us has our own quirky flaws and our own strengths. Any checklist I develop must be different from yours. And also ever-changing, as we discover new things to beware of.

Moreover, the ordering of items in that online checklist bothered me. I sought a checklist that started with the big, story-shaping editing aspect, and proceeded to the fine-tuning parts of editing.

Anita Mumm wrote a post describing the four different phases of editing. Developmental Editing refers to the big stuff, including whole sections and scenes, overall style and tone, major characters, plot arcs, etc. Line Editing is all about tackling the paragraphs and sentences, improving their structure and flow, making the work more readable. Copy Editing focuses on punctuation, grammar, and word use. Proofreading is the last check for anything missed in previous edits, and works best when you read your story aloud.

Here’s my editing checklist, provided as a starter for you to modify, altering and tuning it to your needs. I’ve divided it into the four types of editing, and it contains items I’ve found useful for my short stories. Each phase of editing works best when some time has elapsed since you wrote your first draft, ideally weeks or even months. That provides the right emotional distance for a critical editing job.

Developmental Editing

  • Choose the best voice for telling the story (first-person or third, close or omniscient)
  • Choose the best POV character
  • Endure main characters are appealing, relatable, 3-dimensional, not stereotyped
  • Ensure each main character has a motivation, a goal, an external or internal conflict, and an epiphany
  • Ensure secondary characters are necessary, and still secondary. Should one be promoted to lead?
  • Ensure scenes are in the best order for telling the story
  • Cut unnecessary sections or scenes
  • Ensure each section is about one thing
  • Maintain a single tone and style
  • Fill plot holes
  • Fix story threads that go nowhere
  • Pace the action and create tension where appropriate

Line Editing

  • Craft an irresistible hook
  • Make sure sentences vary in length and structure
  • Ensure each word in a sentence has a purpose
  • Phrase things positively
  • Chose simple words, the precise words needed
  • Use strong verbs in place of was/is/has/be/etc.
  • Phrase sentences in active voice
  • Introduce each scene to orient the reader to characters and setting
  • Put the reader in the scene by reaching all five senses
  • Sprinkle setting descriptions throughout scenes, with the right details
  • In each scene, ensure all the dialoguing characters want something
  • Let the reader know what the POV character is feeling and thinking
  • Ensure characters react to what other characters say and do
  • Use appropriate and distinct character dialogue, but don’t overdue accents
  • Don’t shy away from “said,” but have characters do things while talking
  • Find new ways to word your favorite, overused words and phrases
  • Delete or twist clichés
  • End each section with a cliff-hangar
  • Transition logically and smoothly between paragraphs and sections
  • Use, but don’t overuse, repetition for emphasis

Copy Editing

  • Use “that” and “which” appropriately
  • Delete “that” when you can
  • Use commas and periods correctly in dialogue
  • Make each adverb earn its place
  • Select the correct word (further/farther, continuous/continual, nauseous/nauseated, etc.)
  • Find and correct the misspellings the spell-checker missed

Proofreading

  • Read the story out loud
  • Correct anything that trips you up, throws you out of the story, or sounds odd

Feel free to steal my list and modify it to suit you. Delete things that aren’t problems for you. Add items that your critique group and other editors have commented on in your work. Now you know the one with the cure for those low-down blue pencil blues; it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 29, 2017Permalink

13 Ways You’re Writing Wrongly

Inspired by K. M. Weiland’s wonderful post, “How Not to Be a Writer: 15 Signs You’re Doing It Wrong,” I decided to make my own list.

My list differs from hers, since it’s borne of my own experiences. Moreover, I’m sure there are plenty of unlisted items I’m still getting wrong, that hinder me from greater success.

Arranged in rough order of the writing process, here are a baker’s dozen ways you’re writing wrongly:

  1. You’re not actually fitting one word up against another. In other words, you’re not writing any fiction. Maybe you’re easily distracted, doing too much research, talking about being a writer while not writing, or just intimidated by the prospect. Doesn’t matter. If you’re not writing, you’re never going to be a writer.
  1. You bought your limousine and mansion before the advance arrived. Let’s set some realistic expectations here. Most likely, you’re going to labor in obscurity for a while, probably years. First time best-sellers are very rare. Heck, best-selling authors themselves are rare. Only a tiny percentage of writers support themselves with their writing.
  1. You’re copying someone else’s style. After all, (you’re thinking), if it’s working for James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, John Grisham, etc., then it should work for you. Inconvenient fact—readers already have a Patterson, Rowling, Roberts, Grisham, etc. Create your own style.
  1. You’re sure the rules don’t apply to you. I’m talking about those pesky rules of English and the rules of literature, stuff like spelling, grammar, and story structure. All those rules are for mere plebeians, not you, right? Actually, you’re really supposed to know them. As for always following each rule to the letter, see item 5 on my list.
  1. You obsess about following the rules. You’re now a walking dictionary and could qualify to teach English at Harvard. You chiseled the rules onto granite tablets and now pray before the tablets twice daily. Why are your stories not selling? There’s an overarching rule you forgot—you’re supposed to write stories people want to read. If some rule of writing is keeping you from telling a great story, break the rule. Just don’t go too far (see item 4).
  1. You quit before “The End.” Around the world, desk drawers and computer file directories bulge with half-finished stories. If you would be a writer, you must finish your stories.
  1. Your epidermis is on the thin side. In other words, you don’t take criticism well. The most mundane comment from someone in your critique group or from an editor will either set you off in a bout of inconsolable sobbing or high-minded ranting at the imbeciles that surround you. Get a grip. They’re not attacking your personal character; they’re trying to help you improve your story.
  1. You inhabit a world that’s just too slow to recognize the wonder that is you. How frustrating that must be, to cast your gaze at the mortals about you and see them not bowing before the genius in their midst. Well, genius, here’s a word you might look up: patience. Recognition, if it’s to come at all, will come in time.
  1. You revise edit reword amend change adjust vary redraft alter rephrase modify wordsmith rewrite your story endlessly. Sure, that story will be perfect once you work on it a bit more, just add this and delete that, change the POV character, throw in some better verbs and adjectives. It seems like it’s never quite right. True, it never will be perfect, but it could be good enough.
  1. You defy Submission Guidelines. What’s with all these editors, anyway? Each one has a particular format for story submissions, and each format is different. That’s too much trouble for a great writer like you. Your story is so superb the editor will overlook how you flouted a few guidelines, right? Nope, wrong again. Obey those guidelines.
  1. You never click ‘Submit’ or ‘Send.’ That’s because if you do, some editor might actually see your precious story, might read it, and might not like it. Better to keep your story safe with you, in your home, where nobody can ever criticize it. Uh…no. Show your baby to the world. It will be okay.
  1. Rejections are reasons to revise edit reword…rewrite your story. An editor has rejected your story, perhaps even explained why. To you, that’s a sign you must rewrite it before it can be good enough to submit elsewhere. No. Go ahead and submit it elsewhere immediately. (However, if an editor rejects your story but says she’ll accept it if you revise it in a particular way—ah, that’s the sign that you should rewrite and submit it to her again.)
  1. You’re relaxing after submitting a story. There, you just sent your story on its way. Now you can kick back and wait for the acceptance, the contract with the six-figure advance, the launch party, the book tour, and the TV interviews. Sorry, no. You’re supposed to be a writer. Start writing your next story already.

Avoid those pitfalls and you’ll be on your way to becoming a published writer. Best wishes in all your writing efforts, from—

            Poseidon’s Scribe

December 25, 2016Permalink

When Is Your Story Ready?

On one hand, you’re anxious to send your story to an editor and see it published after its many revisions. On the other hand, you’re not sure it’s quite ready yet.

How do you know when you’ve truly finished a story?

writing-vs-sculptureWe could seek advice from accomplished authors. Unfortunately, the various quotes I’ve compiled run the gamut from the ‘don’t edit at all’ extreme to ‘seven revisions might not be enough.’

  • Robert Heinlein: “They didn’t want it good; they wanted it Wednesday.”
  • Laura Lippman: “You have to be able to finish. The world is full of beautiful beginners.”
  • Michael Crichton: “Books aren’t written—they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”
  • Isaac Asimov (paraphrased from my memory): I write a first draft and never change a word. If they want a five-thousand-word story, I type five thousand words and stop. With any luck, I’m at the end of a sentence.

Thanks, Famous Writers! Great quotes, but not particularly helpful. Next I turned to the blogosphere and came up with some useful posts on the topic by Chris Robley, Dr. Randy Ingermanson, Bryan Hutchinson, Jessica Clausen, and James Duncan. I recommend you peruse those posts at your leisure for more in-depth advice.

Here’s my distillation of guidance from those blog posts, mixed with my own experience. It boils down to your attitude toward the story:

  1. Are you proud of the story? Are you proud enough of it that you’d be happy to see it in print, with your name as the author? If so, it may be ready, so long as it’s not a false pride, and instead stems from the confidence that you’ve done all you can to make the story good.
  2. Are you tired of, or even sick of, working on the story? Your creative muse is aching to move on to something else, and the thought of spending more time on this story is depressing. If this is truly a reaction to working on the story, not the story itself, it may be ready. If you’re sick of the story itself because you think it’s terrible, or you can no longer summon up the enthusiasm you once had for it, it probably still needs work. In that case, it may be best to set it aside for a few weeks or months so you can look at it fresh later.

At some point, you need to decide: (1) submit the story for publication, (2) shelve it for a while and edit it later, or (3) abandon it. Sometimes circumstances will force your decision—things such as an editor’s deadline, the desire for publication, the fickle muse’s yearning for a different writing project, etc.

Sometimes, there’s nothing forcing you to decide and you’re still stuck in limbo, wondering if the story is ready. At that point, you might want to ask yourself whether it’s the story’s readiness that’s in question, or yours. Has the story become a sort of child, one you’re trying to protect from the harsh world out there?

If so, remember: you’re a writer, and writers create stories for readers to enjoy. Time to let that story out, and let it find whatever acclaim or obscurity it will, while you move on to write the next one. You can do this; take it from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 6, 2016Permalink

Read Your Story Aloud — 10 Reasons Why

It’s vital to read your story aloud before submitting the manuscript for publication. You may consider that a waste of time, since you can Reading Aloudread the story silently to yourself more easily, and because silent reading is the way most readers will experience your work as well.

I contend you really should take the time for reading aloud, and for making that technique one of your final editing methods. For several of the reasons below, I’m indebted to Joanna Penn.

  • After reading your story silently several times, reading aloud will give you the different perspective of the spoken word, enabling a more thorough edit.
  • You’ll find it easier to spot story inconsistencies and plot continuity problems.
  • With this different style of reading, you’ll find the typos and punctuation errors you skipped over earlier.
  • You’ll hear more readily if your story’s dialogue is realistic or forced.
  • The need to breathe when speaking will aid you in identifying overlong sentences.
  • You’ll have an improved sense of whether you’re building tension effectively.
  • By timing your reading, you’ll know how long the audiobook or podcast version of your story will be.
  • You’ll find right away if you have any tongue-twisting phrases or words that sound jarring when juxtaposed.
  • By saying words aloud, you’ll likely have a better notion of which ones to emphasize by italicizing.
  • You’ll better hear the rhythms of the words and sentences, the cadences of your story, and might identify edits to make them flow better.

You might be thinking you’ll have a friend read your story to you, or get a software program to read the text aloud, while you just listen and let the words wash over you. I advise against that and recommend you read the story with your voice, letting the words tumble from your own lips. Both speaking and listening will give you a stronger mental connection with the story than mere listening would.

If you’re one of the few writers who doesn’t regularly employ this technique, I recommend you join the majority. It will improve the quality of your stories, and that guarantee is straight from the mouth of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

To Know Your Grammar is to Love Her, Part II

Millions of you loyal readers will recall the first time I blogged about grammar. This time I’m tackling the issue from a different perspective.

GrammarIn my previous post on the subject, I focused on the obscure and easily forgotten terms people associate with grammar, and how some think they can’t write because they don’t remember all those definitions from English class.

Today I’ll explore some basics of grammar that might be keeping you from succeeding as a writer, prevent you from grasping that brass ring. No strange words this time (well, maybe one).

I came upon this blog post by Allison VanNest that discusses five common grammar mistakes beginning writers make. Well worth reading! Experienced editors would likely agree with Allison about her top five list, based on manuscripts they receive.

  • Misuse of Commas: I like Ms. VanNest’s take on this one. Commas are supposed to signal pauses. That’s why I’m an advocate of the Serial (or Oxford) Comma. However, I’ll bow to the wishes of an editor who’s willing to accept my stories!
  • Incorrect Capitalization: I’m surprised this one made the list of the top five grammar mistakes, but I guess it is a problem.
  • Misspellings: It’s very true what Allison writes about this, including the fact that spell checkers can lead you astray. (I’ve long loved the funny poem about spell checkers.)
  • Wordiness: We’re all prone to this. As you edit, make each word and phrase defend itself, earn its place in your story.
  • Missing Determiners: There’s that one (possibly) strange word I mentioned. Don’t leave out “a,” “an,” and “the” when they’re needed for clarity.

You may be thinking, “So what if my story has a misspelled word, or I’ve got a comma out of place? Why is that so important?”

Here’s why: If you send your manuscript to an editor, your bad grammar tells the editor you don’t know the language very well. Your bad grammar makes the editor more likely to reject your story even if it is otherwise compelling. Moreover, the editor is more likely to reject your future submissions out of hand.

If you decide to skip the editor and self-publish instead, you’re disappointing and then frustrating the reader, your ultimate customer. Not only will your reader cast your book aside in disgust, he or she will not buy your other stories and may leave an unfavorable review, thus turning off other potential readers.

My intent today was to comment on the content of Ms. VanNest’s blog post. That site is promoting a grammar-checker software product called Grammarly. I have not yet tried that program, so have no reason to criticize or endorse it. Many word processors include grammar-checkers, but you might find single-use software such as Grammarly to be superior.

Ensure your writing avoids the top five grammar mistakes before you submit it for publication. Make them part of your editing process as you rewrite your drafts. Before you know it, you’ll have more stories published and a higher income from your writing, than—

Poseidon’s Scribe

A Tight Plot

“Tight plotting” is the term I use where everything is necessary to the plot and the story moves along without tangents or superfluous references. I didn’t invent the term, but it’s not yet in widespread use.

First let’s examine the opposite—loose plotting—and we’ll be able to make the contrast. Loose plotting is more common in novels than in short stories, and somewhat common in movies. Why? In a novel there’s an expectation of length, and a tendency for the writer to get a related idea and decide to stick it in the manuscript, even if it has to be force-fit. The creation process for movies is more collaborative than that of books, and with many cooks there’s a tendency to lose focus and spoil the broth.

Airplane!To illustrate, consider two movies, both rather silly comedies. To me, the movie Airplane! (1980) is an example of loose plotting. It’s filled with funny little gags that bear little relation to the main plot and don’t advance the story. The movie may be funny, and it was a financial success, but it is not an example of tight plotting.

By contrast, the movie Galaxy Quest (1999) has a far tighter plot. There are humorous gags and lines, and some subplots, but nearly all the action and dialogue moves the plot along.

Galaxy_Quest_posterOne can argue which movie is funnier, and audiences might be more forgiving with comedies if the jokes are comical enough. But it seems to me that Galaxy Quest has the more focused, the more integral, of the two movies’ plots.

In written fiction such as short stories, novellas, or novels, I believe it’s important to keep the plot tight. Resist the temptation to “work in” what seems to be a great, though tangentially related, idea. Keep asking yourself if each scene, each character, each paragraph and sentence, advance your plot in some important way to keep the story moving. It’s okay to have subplots, but make them related to and supportive of your main plot, and don’t linger too long on any one subplot.

The editing process is where you’ll have the best chance to tighten your plot. You have to be brutal in cutting out unnecessary parts and words. As we say in the biz, you have to “kill your darlings.” Loose plotting is indicative of lazy editing.

Don’t think your readers can’t recognize loose plotting. Once they start your story and latch on to the main plot, they want to follow it to see what happens. They’ll detect any deviation from that plot. At first they’ll wonder how this new path is connected to the main plot. They may forgive an occasional tangent if it’s short. But with each digression you run the risk of boring the reader. A bored reader probably won’t finish your story, and definitely will not read your other stories.

For more information on tight plotting, and overall tight writing, see this great blog post by Margot Finke.

If there’s one writer who really strives to keep his plots tight, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 14, 2014Permalink

Emotional Roller-coaster

As you and the story you’re writing go through time together, do you find yourself on the same type of emotional roller-coaster as with a personal relationship? Do you feel elated by positive events and dejected by negative ones? I’ve been through the process enough to detect a repeatable pattern. Maybe it will be the same for you.

Let’s follow through as I experience the highs and lows of writing a story and getting it published. This is my relationship with a single story, so the line will overlap with other stories in various stages.

Emotional RollercoasterGetting a story idea is enjoyable, having it mature in my mind while I imagine the possibilities, the characters, the plotline, the settings, and some of the dramatic scenes. It’s a good feeling to go through that, because that imaginary, unwritten story is as good as it’s ever going to be. Once the reality starts and I put words down, the story never reaches the exalted heights of perfection that it achieved when just a dream.

Still, putting words down has a gratification all its own. I feel I’m making progress, producing product, assembling widgets on my keyboard / word / sentence / paragraph assembly line.

Until I get stuck with writer’s block. Here I mean the minor writer’s block I’ve described before, where I can’t get out of a plot hole, or I need a character to act contrary to his or her motivations, etc. Although temporary, this is a real downer. I don’t always experience this, (as shown by the reddish line) but there’s usually some drop-off in enthusiasm as the glow of the original idea fades a bit.

Reaching THE END of the first draft is a definite up-tic in satisfaction for me. The mad rush of getting words down is over. It’s good to know I can start the reviewing-editing-improving phase.

For simplicity, my graph only shows two drafts, but there may be more, with minor wave crests for completing each one. I get to the highest emotional state so far when I consider the story done and submit it for publication. “Here, Dear Editor, this is my newborn! Don’t you love it as much as I do?”

That emotional high fades, as they all do, while waiting for a response. Usually I’ve begun another story by then, so I get an overlap with a similar-looking graph displaced in time.

My graph depicts two paths here, one showing a rejection. Despite my earlier advice to look at rejections positively, I still find that hard to do. Rejections stink. Maybe not as much now as my first one, but still…

An acceptance of a story is a very high emotional state, especially the first time. It’s time to celebrate, indulge, and surrender to the grandeur and magnificence of me.

No one can maintain a very high or very low state forever, so I do descend from the grand summit as I get through the rewrites and signing of the contract, though these are not unpleasant.

The launch of a story is another sublime pinnacle of emotional ecstasy, and that’s no hyperbole. “For all human history, readers have awaited a story like this, and today, I, yes I, grant your wish and launch this masterpiece, this seminal work of ultimate prose, so you may purchase and read it. You’re quite welcome.”

After the story is launched, you’ll get occasional uplifting moments, such as favorable reviews, or book signings, etc. These are never quite as exciting as acceptance or launching, but they’re gratifying anyway.

I’ve not gotten through all these stages with a novel yet, but I suppose a novel’s graph is longer in time, and has many more ups and downs than that of a short story.

Also, your mileage may vary such that your graph looks quite different from mine. Leave me a comment and let me know about the emotional stages of your writing experience.

Remember, when on a roller-coaster (emotional or state fair-type), it sometimes helps to raise your hands in the air and scream. Whee! Here goes—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 26, 2014Permalink

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Writers

In 1989, author Stephen Covey came out with his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I’m a sucker for self-improvement books and found Covey’s book inspiring and practical. At the risk of insulting the late Stephen Covey, I’ll dare to suggest seven habits of highly effective fiction writers.

The_7_Habits_of_Highly_Effective_PeopleCovey presented his seven habits in a logical order, with a nice, organic structure. His phrased his habits—aimed at helping people live better lives—as brief directives, but took about a chapter to explain each one. They included such things as “Be proactive,” “Begin with the end in mind,” and others.

In a similar manner, my suggested habits have a rough order to them, but are not as neatly structured as Covey’s. My habits do not parallel Covey’s, but they do consist of brief directive statements which require some explanation. Here they are:

  1. Listen to your inner storyteller. First and most important, you’re a writer because you have story to tell, because you can’t imagine not writing. Keep that inner spark always burning; it will sustain you through the difficult times.
  2. Form the discipline of writing. Sometimes your inner storyteller doesn’t yell loud enough, and the rest of life’s obligations close in. If you’re to be a writer, you still need to write, write, write. There is no substitute for time spent with butt in chair and fingers on keyboard.
  3. Get help with the craft. Seek all kinds of help. Study English again. Develop your vocabulary. Read about writing. Read the classics. Attend writing classes and conferences. Join a critique group.
  4. Follow your muse. As you write more, you’ll think of characters, plots, and settings during odd, idle moments when you’re not writing. That’s your unconscious, creative voice—your muse—talking. Pay attention. Though she may lead you to unimagined and uncomfortable places, she might help you develop your unique writing voice.
  5. Submit your best. Don’t rely on editors to see the genius of your story through all the spelling, grammatical, and plot errors. Do a thorough job of self-editing, thinking critically, viewing your manuscript as a reader and English teacher might. Submit only when you can honestly say it’s your best product and you’re proud of it.
  6. Be a professional. Present yourself to the world as if you’re already a successful author. Establish an author website. Don’t get so angry at editors, reviewers, blog commenters, or readers that you descend into flame wars, emotional outbursts, or other unprofessional conduct.
  7. Actively seek improvement. This may sound like number 3 above, but that earlier habit is about the initial learning of fiction writing; this one is about continual development, honing, and advancement of your craft. It means to cycle through all the habits as you go, improving known weak areas, always working to ensure your next story is better than all the previous ones.

Long-time followers of my blog will recall my post proposing 15 writing virtues. The seven habits I’m advocating today are another approach. It’s easier to remember 7 things than 15 anyway, right? There are many paths to self-improvement, and you’re free to find your own. For now, it’s back to growing and improving for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

September 7, 2014Permalink

I Dint Proofread This Blog Post

Yes, I should have proofread this blog post before publishing it, but you know how thyme gets away from you. It’s possible there may be errirs I didn’t catch.

ProofreadingProofreading is impotent because readers get annoyed when they see mistakes left behind. They may conclude you’re not a competent writer. Worse, depending on the mistakes you make, you can convey a meaning counter to what you mint.

I’ve blogged about editing once or twice before, and I may have been lumping proofreading inn with that term. There is a distinction. In fact, in large publishing houses, there are different people involved; the editor and the proofreader halve different skills.

Editing should precede proofreading, and it concentrates on the biggger picture. An editor is checking for focus, readability, clarity, logic, good transitions, and consistent tone.

A proofreader, by contrast, is checking for speling errors, the bad affect of grammatical errors, use verb tense problems, words that might missing, mis$ing or incorrect punctu@tion, and poor sentence structure such as run-on sentences or sentence fragments that.

How do you go about proofreading? There’s some excellent advice available here, here, here, and here.  I’ll repeat some of that advice below, grouped into categories:

Spelling

  • Don’t trust spell checkers. Use them, but realize they only check four spelling, knot the correct use of a word.
  • Keep a dictionary on hand. This helps with obscure words that spell-checkers don’t no.
  • Read backward. An old trick, but it werks! You’l spot errors more eesily.

References

  • Keep reference materials on hand. The web can work for most things, but not all.
  • Double-check facts, figures, and proper names. Making sure of these things now can save embarrassment later. Ensure you check “internal facts” such as consistency with your character names, ages, hair and eye color, etc.

Freshness

  • Give yourself a break. Keep yourself mentally fresh and alert. Proofreading requires attention to detail.
  • Give the manuscript a break. This means to let your creation sit for a time (days, weeks, even months) before proofreading, to make it seem fresh to you. It’s easier to spot errors that way.

Other Proofreading Tricks

  • Adopt a critical mindset. Think like an auditor, or channel your most frustrating English teacher from school. Assume your manuscript is awash in errors and you’re going to find them.
  • Print out the text, review the hard copy. This works for some people.
  • Create a customized proofreading list of your most common errors. I highly recommend this. Keep the list dynamic by adding new errors you uncover.
  • Proofread for one category of error, or one type of problem, at a time.
  • Read the text aloud. Sometimes errors are easier to spot when spoken.
  • Ask someone else to proofread your manuscript. Ideally this would be a fellow writer, or a friend who knows English well and is willing to give you honest criticism.

Its my sincere hope you take more time proofreading you’re stories than I’ve done with this blog post. Eye was a bit rushed today:; but that’s really no excuse?! Starting with the next post, I’ll return two the polished, error-free, grammatically perfect prose you’ve come to expect from—

Pose-sigh-dunce Scribe

Too Much to Remember

Looking back over my 200 blog posts, I see I’ve presented a lot of rules about writing. The question might be occurring to you beginning writers—how am I supposed to remember all that? And you’re thinking, if I have to keep all those rules in mind, it all seems too hard. I’ll never be a writer.

Remember RulesYes, you can be a writer, most likely. If there’s a story in you that you feel passionate about, then your knowledge of all my previous ‘rules’ is secondary. Conversely, even if you’ve memorized all the rules I’ve presented, there’s little hope for you if you aren’t driven to write by something powerful inside.

I recommend, therefore, that you use that powerful drive, sustain your strong passion for the idea, and write the first draft without regard to any rule. Forget all I’ve said about using active sentence structure, showing and not telling, not overdoing dialect, etc.

Then, in your second and subsequent drafts you can edit to make sure you’re following the ‘rules.’ Write them down if you have trouble remembering them. That list of rules can be your ‘editing list’ which will help you recall what you’re checking for as you edit.

If you find your critique group, or editors, or reviewers, pointing out a certain common defect in your stories, you can add that defect to the editing list and make a point of correcting that problem in subsequent stories.

Over time you may find a funny thing begin to happen. You’ll break fewer rules in your first drafts. You’ll be able to remember more of them as you write. Or maybe not remember them consciously, but somehow know them as you madly scribble that first draft.

It’s the same phenomenon that occurred when you learned to ride a bicycle, drive a car, or play a musical instrument. The task that seemed so complicated and daunting at first, that skill you thought you couldn’t master because there was so much to remember, somehow became easier. Things you once had to concentrate on became things you do without thinking.

Recently I heard an experienced author at a writer’s conference say she could no longer turn off her inner editor while writing a first draft. She does subsequent drafts, but there are fewer things to correct than there were with her first books. If that ends up happening to you, perhaps the final step will be to give up subsequent drafts entirely, and let the first draft be the final one. Isaac Asimov claimed he didn’t edit or write second drafts. Perhaps you’ll achieve that level of skill.

Remember, you don’t have to keep all the rules in mind during the first draft. When writing that one, don’t think about rules at all; just write. Now, if I could only recall how I’m supposed to end these blog posts…so much to remember. Oh, yeah, I just sign it—

Poseidon’s Scribe