By Kristena Mears
Editing your own work can be hard, even if you have perfect editing skills. I’ve read books that haven’t been well edited. (Mostly this is in the self-publishing market, but I’ve come across mistakes in Traditionally published books too.) Editing errors can make a book frustrating to read and can distract from the story-line. This isn’t at all what we want. We what the reader so engaged, that they can’t put the book down.
Those of you who know me can attest my spelling and punctuation skills aren’t always the best. I want to assure all writers, it’s possible to learn basic editing. I should know.
I’ve had to work hard to overcome challenges involving dyslexia. I want to show you a few tricks I’ve used in my own writing and editing that, I believe will be helpful.
One of the most discouraging moments in a writer’s life is opening an email and finding a rejection letter. I’ve been there, and I know it hurts. After all, our work is our baby. What mother wants to see their child rejected? We work hard for weeks, months and sometimes even years on our brainchild. It’s flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Every mother knows their child is the most beautiful in the world.
Likewise, most writers feel their work is the very best when they send it off. We know our work is the best. If only the rest of the world were as smart as we are and could see what we see!
But we need to do our part in showcasing our work in the best possible light. Granted, every genre is different, and every publisher is looking for something distinct, that’s what makes our craft so unique… and so much fun. But there is one universal trait that all are looking for.
They want it edited.
Did you know that over half the submissions are rejected due to editing errors and authors not following the procedure of the agent or publisher? Who wants to be that author?
Spelling and punctuation mistakes can be distracting to the reader. We don’t want this in our book We what the reader to be immersed in the world that we have made and not be jolted out of it by errors.
I’m not sure how many of you are Grammar Nazis, but those Grammar Nazis find it extra frustrating when they come across an editing error while reading. I’ve talked to some that won’t even finish a book they are enjoying before they came across a mistake.
On the flip side, a well-meaning Nazi can bring embarrassment to a writer when their work is critiqued in front of others. No writer wants that mortification. So, we work extra hard to make sure that never happens.
Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years; my “dummy hint to editing.” I’d like to hit on the three top tools I use when I edit my work:
1. Spelling and Grammar
This is often the first thing we think about when someone says editing. It’s the foundation. If the spelling and grammar aren’t correct, few will continue reading to find our jewels. Our inability to correct our work shouldn’t prevent us from doing a good job editing, however. Two of my personal favorites are Microsoft Word and Grammarly.
I write in Microsoft Word. I have mine set, so it shows me the spelling and grammar errors as I write. I then copy what I wrote and transfer it to “new letter” in my email. This works in conjunction with the Grammarly I’ve installed. I use the free version from grammarly.com. I highly recommend getting this app, even if you’re not challenged in this area as I am. Between the two programs, you’ll find you can correct 99.9% of all spelling and grammar errors. These both will pick up on homonyms, although I believe Grammarly does a better job with this. I must warn you that neither of these is perfect. I find I need to correct both at times, especially if I’m writing dialogue. Even with the care I take in correcting my work, I find it helpful to send it to a real editor before I ship it off to a publisher or agent. Even the best of us can use a second inspection before releasing it into the world of competition. I highly recommend my amazing editor Deborah Whiteman at debsedit.com. She’s quick, efficient and reasonable.
2. Microsoft Word Read Aloud
I’ve found the Read Aloud function on Microsoft word invaluable. When I read my work, I know what it should be. I have dyslexia. I’ve had to work hard to overcome this and I’ve trained my mind to correct what it sees. This, however, can work to my disadvantage when trying to spellcheck my work. I don’t see the mistake. I only see what I think or want it to be. I can often correct it using Word or Grammarly, but this won’t help if the word is spelled correctly but I’ve used the wrong word.
For example, while writing this article, I replaced the word work, for the word word in the above paragraph. I didn’t catch it and it wasn’t caught by Word spelling check. But as I used the Read Aloud function, my mistake was glaring.
Read Aloud also helps in finding redundant words or phrases. While the voice is mechanical and doesn’t use inflections, it still gives a sense of what is being relayed and what needs to be changed. Hearing is often better than seeing when it comes to our own work.
3. Cutting and Polishing
The final stage is cutting and polishing. We don’t want our finished product to be good enough; we want it to be perfect. We want it to be a shining example of excellence. But how do we take it from ordinary to extraordinary? Have you ever been in the midst of reading and come across a sentence so exquisite you stop reading just to savor it? This is what we want to achieve. But how?
Our first step is to cut and tighten. Look through your work for words like:
Just, Only, Very, Some… to name a few.
I’m not one to say never use these words, but if they can be avoided… avoid them. These words are a sign of lazy writing.
If a word is cut, it may need to be replaced. The word you replace it with can take the sentence from average to excellent. I use a thesaurus to find those words. If you were peeking over my shoulder while I worked, you would rarely see me writing without having a tab open to thesaurus.com. Yes, this takes work, but this is how you make your work exquisite. Let’s look at an example.
It was a very dark night and only the stars shown above.
Now… Cut and Polish.
Sparkling jewels flickered above, penetrating the pervading velvety darkness.
An ordinary sentence becomes extraordinary.
Now you try. Post your extraordinary sentence below.