Tips for Editing Your Writing

This post is sponsored by Grammarly.

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I use Grammarly for proofreading because every time you publish an error in a Sherlock Holmes Pastiche, Professor Moriarty wins.

I’m currently in the editing process for my third novel, tentatively titled The Detective, The Woman and the Silent Hive: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes. Some time ago, I posted about the writing process and my tips for finishing a book, so this time I thought I would tackle some suggestions for editing, whether you’re working on fanfiction, academic papers, or a novel.

GrammarlyGrammarly is a new discovery for me, but it’s one I feel very comfortable recommending. I’ve always been of the opinion that a computer program can’t do what a human can when it comes to understanding the intricacies of the English language, but Grammarly’s program is something new. Rather than providing the rote, unimaginative suggestions of something like Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker, it does a far more thorough and intuitive job of picking up on the actual nuances of language. It’s not a tool to totally replace human intelligence, but it’s a great way for writers to begin the process of taking an unedited manuscript and starting it on the journey of becoming polished and publishable. One of my favorite things about the program is that it doesn’t only mark potential mistakes; it explains in detail the reasoning behind the rules it’s using. I would certainly say it’s at the cutting edge of what technology can offer writers at the present time.

Use Your Own Eyes: Even if you don’t feel particularly strong in the areas of grammar and mechanics, don’t send a story or paper off as-is. Just because you have another editor lined up doesn’t mean you’re absolved of all responsibility for a clean manuscript. As a professional proofreader, I can tell you that it’s much harder to do my job when I get something that is completely raw and unedited. If the writer at least gives it a once-over, that gives me a much better place to start from, and it makes it more likely that I’m going to catch the littler things that make the difference between good and great. The thing is, even if you’re not perfect, your eyes will catch large typographical errors, repeated words, and blatant mistakes so that your editor can focus on the finer points. I usually go over my manuscripts at least twice in detail before I give them to an editor.

Get the Best Editor You Can Afford: Editing needs are not the same for every project. If you’re writing fanfiction to post for free, then it’s not cost effective to hire a professional to edit your work; however, sites like fanfiction.net offer free beta reading services that can help you polish your writing. The same is true of a lot of university and college campuses. Free writing centers often offer not only basic editing, but also suggestions for improving your papers. If you are asked to pay, it’s usually much less than what an editor would charge in the private sector. If you’re writing a book for publication, your publisher may offer line editing; even so, you’re expected to provide a clean manuscript from which to start. If it’s worth publishing with your name on it; it’s worth incurring some editing expense. This is doubly true if you’re self-publishing, because you have a (hopefully diminishing) stigma to fight against, as well as no publisher’s name to hide behind. Using two editors is, in my opinion, ideal. I am fortunate enough to have two professional editors in my family. One edits my manuscripts for basic mechanics, and the other checks them for word usage, plot consistency, and the overall quality of the writing. For me, this setup works very well.

What tips have you found helpful for your editing process?

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The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

Superheroes Among Us: The Secret Lives of Proofreaders

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a superhero.

I didn’t always realize I was a superhero, but I’ve always known I was different. You see, I am a proofreader, compulsively and professionally.

“Ah,” you say, “but grammar is a learned skill not a superpower.”

Not so, my comma-missing friend. (I could hear in your voice that you would have left the comma out of your above statement.)

Some achieve grammatical competence, and most have a vague sense of editorial rightness thrust upon them. There are, however, few who are born great. Like spider webs issuing from our wrists or the power of flight, we are both gifted and cursed with the power of proofreading.

Most of us, like other superheroes, first discover our powers in troubling and traumatic ways. Consider the ordinary-looking child who sits down at a diner with his family. Picking up the grimy menu, he encounters the phrase, “Mashed Potatoe’s.” He is pained! He is incensed! As quickly as he can, he looks around the table to share this moment of affront with his family members, but they are unmoved. Not one of them has even noticed! With utter horror, he realizes how alone he is in this vast and grammatically-challenged universe.

As we grow, we learn to blend in and even, perhaps, earn financial compensation by using our power in small and inconspicuous ways. Like other minorities, however, we continue to be subject to tragic levels of discrimination and exploitation.

Consider our representation in the media. “The Foreigner,” a play that takes as its subject prejudice in the American South, does an admirable job of illuminating racial issues. At the same time, its hypocrisy is unnerving. Its protagonist, a man by the name of Charlie, is the professional proofreader of a science fiction magazine. With utter callousness toward the misunderstood heroism of the proofreaders that walk our streets, he is portrayed as shy, quiet, even, dare I say it, unadventurous! I know, it’s nearly too offensive to be repeated on paper, but we must be made aware of these things if we are ever to progress in the treatment of the persecuted in our society.

Exploitation is an even bigger issue, for it is one that is a daily struggle for all who possess the power to proofread. Consider this anecdote, occurring in the life of an ordinary college freshman. “Jane,” says Natalie, “could you proofread this paper really quick? I have to turn it in fifteen minutes from now.” No, Natalie, you do not understand. Proofread this paper really quick(ly) is what happens when a proofreader edits something for another of her own kind and feels shy about handing it back with the one correction it required, a correction that is probably, really, a matter of opinion. Editing for the ordinary writer is a painstaking, agonizing process in which the proofreader must commune with her inner soul about whether or not clauses are dependant, whether Strunk or Turabian is the true authority, and whether she can bear to leave slight mistakes if they seem intrinsic to the writer’s personal style. It is akin to Sisyphus’s daily journey, a valiant effort that is both grueling and time-consuming. At the very least, Natalie, offer Jane a chocolate bar.

Of course, superheroes also have their special joys. Superman orbits the earth in graceful arcs, and Thor makes mountains shake with Mjolnir’s thunder. We, too, have pleasures that will never be enjoyed by mere mortals. The moment of ecstasy that comes when we turn off “Tracked Changes” and suddenly find a pristine document where disorder and superfluous semicolons once reigned is beyond human description. It is sublime.

Some mutants fly; others read minds; others know exactly when to use affect or effect. All are united in an existence at once beautiful and tragic, exhilarating and excruciating. Proofreaders are often unappreciated superheroes, laboring in silent anonymity for the sake of a future world in which no plurals are accidental possessives and no run-on sentences live to mar the course of human development. It is, you say, only an dream. We agree, but you should have said “a.”

 

Please Note: This essay is very, very, very serious and should be taken as such.