Tag Archives: the importance of editing

How Working With An Editor Can Improve Your Writing

23 Jan

Writers write. This is hardly Earth-shattering news, but it can led to challenges. In particular, as a writer, you will often be too close to a piece you are working on to be able to look at it in an objective manner. Yet, this is important if you are to be able to refine your early drafts into the final polished article. This is where an editor comes in. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a trained professional, it can be fellow writer, or a friend you trust to give an honest opinion. Their job is simply to give that objective opinion which you cannot give yourself.

However, working with an editor can be difficult, especially for the uninitiated. This is because you need to give up some of the control you have over you piece, and this is something most writers will fight against. After all, you’ll have poured your heart and soul into your work, and you will often feel as protective of it as if it were your own child. While this is understandable, this is something you need to get over if you’re going to succeed as a writer. This is because, in almost all cases, the editor, with their more objective frame of mind, will be right. If they say that a character has to go, them it’s almost certain they will have to go. If they say a scene isn’t working, or isn’t needed, the chances are they’re right. If they say the dialogue isn’t working or the plot is flawed, then this is what others are likely to think too. In short, while the editor’s job is to give an objective opinion, yours as the writer, is to listen to them.

There will be many times you will want to disagree with them, often vehemently (and occasionally even violently!), but you should bite your tongue. Pick your battles and only go into bat for the one or two suggestions you really feel you cannot live with. Even then, you’ll still have to work out why a specific scene isn’t working and then try to fix it; yet in the end, you’ll often find yourself coming round to the same opinion as the editor.

So, when should you use an editor? There’s probably three stages of any project where having input from an editor is most useful. The first is right after you’ve finished your first draft. Here, they can give you their thoughts on the broad outline: Does the plot work? What about the characters? Is the story arc complete and consistent with itself? The second is after you’ve fixed all the major problems with the first draft (and there will always be major problems with the first draft!). Here, they will concentrate more on the language your using, check that the dialogue is working, look at how the characters grow and develop throughout the story, make sure than you don’t use the same words and descriptions too frequently, and so on. As writers, it’s easy to slip into fixed patterns and continually pluck the same words or phrases out of the air, yet such repetition makes your text rather boring and flat. While you can go through and weed these out yourself, an editor will do it quicker and better.

The final point at which the input from an editor is extremely useful is right at the end, just before you publish or submit your manuscript. Here, they will concentrate on the nitty-gritty, ensuring that the grammar is correct and that all the commas are where they should be, that the spelling is right and that all the words are in the right tense.

While you might be able to write a complete novel without using an editor, it is almost certain that you will have a better final product if you work with an editor. In addition, you’ll often find that it’s quicker and easier to finish your book with an editor’s help. This is because they can often spot how to solve problems which you know are there, but that you can’t quite work out how to deal with on your own.

I suspect that some writers, especially those just starting out, feel that working with an editor is somehow cheating, since it can sometimes feel that a project is no longer all your own work. However, all writers need editors, and even the most famous authors need this type of external input in order to complete their work. They, too, will often find themselves arguing with their editors over decisions, and just like the rest of us, they’ll eventually realise that their editor is right and they are wrong.

So, working with an editor is a good thing, and it can only improve your writing, but one question remains: where do you find an editor to work with in the first place? This is a tricky question to answer. If you’re lucky, you will have friends or fellow writers you can turn to, especially for the first or second read-throughs (this is what I do, and I only use a professional editor for the final read through). If not, it can be a bit hit and miss. This is because there are many free-lance editors out there, and it can be difficult to find one you are happy to work with.

There are professional associations which you can use to help you find a reputable editor, and you can always ask for examples of pieces an editor has worked on before you take them on. Employing a free-lance editor will not necessarily be cheap, but it can make the difference between your novel popping and fizzing with action, or just coming across a little flat. This is particularly true for the final read through, where varying the punctuation marks can make all the difference to how the story comes across, and let’s face it, does anyone beyond a professional editor really know all the rules for the correct use of some of the more exotic punctuation marks that are out there?

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

On The Horns Of A Dilemma – Or Should That Be Dilemna?

28 Mar

I woke this morning and had one of those moments that always makes me go cold. I was listening to my usual breakfast radio show when, still half asleep, I heard the DJ (a certain Mr. Shaun W. Keaveny) say something along the lines of ‘ …. dilemma, of course it’s spelt di-lem-na …’. First, I thought ‘is it?’; then I did a mental forehead slap and thought, ‘of course it is’ followed by ‘Oh my god, I’ve spelt that word wrong all over my blog’. That was the moment the panic shot through me. About a month ago, I’d started a new section of this blog called ‘What Would You Do If … Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse’ and according to Mr. Keaveny I’d been misspelled the ‘D’ word in every post. This, I thought, is devastating for my reputation as a writer. Why, oh why, I wondered, hadn’t my trusty spell-checker picked this up?

At this point, I should say my natural spelling ability is atrocious (you should see how that was written before it was spell-checked!). It’s something I was heavily criticised for at school; I was picked on, even bullied because of it. Yet it was not, as you might think, my fellow pupils who did this but my English teachers. My classroom experiences were so mentally bruising, they put me off writing, or at least sharing my writing with others (nothing was going to stop me wanting to express myself), for many, many years.

I’m almost certainly dyslexic (pretty much my entire family is, so it would be somewhat surprising if I’m not). Until recently, it’s something I’ve never really admitted, even to myself, and because of the way I was treated at school, I remain acutely embarrassed that, at almost 41 years old, I still have problems with even basic spelling and grammar.

I have real trouble working out when I should use ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, I regularly mix up ‘breaks’ and ‘brakes’ and I can’t spell ‘desperate’ and ‘separate’ without a lot of thought or outside assistance (it just doesn’t make sense to me that the fifth-last letter in the first is an ‘e’ while in the second it’s an ‘a’ when the two words sound so similar). Even more confusing is ‘definitely’; Why? Because here in my native Glasgow, the majority of people clearly pronounce it ‘defin-ately’, with the emphasise very much on the non-existent ‘a’ in ‘ately’.

Word processors and spell-checkers are invaluable to me and allow me to correct many mistakes before I show my work to others. Using a computer also allows me to pass off those I miss as ‘typos’ caused by poor keyboard skills – much more acceptable for an almost middle-aged man – rather than an inability to spell, but they don’t spot everything. They can’t, for example, tell me when I’ve confused ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ if both are spelt the right way or, much more embarrassingly, if I’ve missed out the ‘l’ in public.

This means I have to repeatedly read everything over many, many times, making sure I double-check all the words I know I always have problems with. It’s time consuming but it has the added benefit that I’ll improve my work on each and every pass. As a result, I undoubtedly end up with a better piece of writing because I have to put in so much effort just to make sure I have the basic grammar and spelling right. I also get my long-suffering girlfriend to read over my stories, red pen in hand; she is blessed with great editing skills, and her comments and suggestions improve my work dramatically.

For my debut novel, I knew I’d only get one chance to make a first impression, so I got four or five friends to read over it and report any errors back, and had my girlfriend go over it with a fine-toothed comb several times. I then took it to a professional editor who double-checked everything again, suggested some changes and helped polish it. That way I knew I had a book that not only I could be proud of but that I could release into the world, confident it wouldn’t give away my inability to spell. All this paid off when I got the first official review back: it not only got five stars out of five (only rarely awarded – I checked just to make sure!) but a glowing review (you can read it here if you’re interested). Finally, I felt I could put the ghosts of all the criticism I’d received in my high school English classes to rest.

Then came this morning and the dilemma/dilemna dilemma. I leapt from my bed, reached for the internet (yes all of it) and confirmed that … I was right: the second last letter is an ‘m’ and not an ‘n’ as the DJ had suggested. Relieved, I dug a little deeper and found not only is this a widespread misconception but many people have been specifically taught the wrong spelling at school (so much for English teachers!). The version with the ‘n’ in it might be commonly used but it’s not even a recognised variant; nor is it simply an old-fashioned spelling, it’s always appeared in dictionaries with a double ‘m’; putting an ‘n’ in ‘dilemma’ is just plain wrong. This is clear from its roots in the Greek words ‘di’ meaning two and ‘lemma’ meaning premise. In contrast, ‘lemna’ is a genus of free-floating aquatic plants, so ‘dilemna’ with an ‘n’ is a pair of pond weeds!

So what can I conclude from my experience this morning? Firstly, thanks to the way my English teachers treated me, I still cringe with embarrassment if I even think I’ve made a spelling mistake in public (I always triple-check that last word just to make sure all the required letters are there) and it saps my confidence on a regular basis. I don’t think teachers realise the life-long effects their disparaging remarks can have on the children they teach, and more should be aware of this. Thanks to my experiences at school, it took me more than 20 years to build up confidence to even think about sharing my work with others, and that’s 20 plus years of writing I can never get back. How many other budding writers have been similarly put off by the very people who are paid to teach and encourage them?

Secondly, if you’re in a similar situation to me (regardless of whether you’re dyslexic or just lack confidence in your abilities), don’t let it put you off writing. Instead, find yourself a good editor (this can be a friend or another writer and need not be a professional). They can help you shore up any areas where you might not be naturally strong. Don’t feel embarrassed about doing this, even famous authors rely on their editors (some more heavily than others) and, after all, that’s what editors do. Getting outside advice has the potential to improve your work no end and it’s something all writers should do. It’ll also help you develop your craft; I think I learned more about writing from my editor’s comments on my book than I did from all of my school teachers.

Finally, and most importantly, just because someone else tells you you’re spelling something wrong don’t automatically believe them, check it out for yourself – it may well turn out they’re wrong, not you. That’s certainly how my dilemma dilemma turned out.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Why Editing Needs To Involve More Than Just Hitting The Spell-check Button

31 Oct

Below are two sentences which differ by only one letter. The letter in question happens to have been replaced with another one that is right next to it on the standard English ‘qwerty’ keyboard, so it would be very easy to type the wrong one. If you ran them through a spell-checker, it would tell you that both sentences are fine. The same with a grammar-checker. Yet, the two sentence paint very different pictures in the reader’s mind. Here’s the first sentence: ‘Shush, I think something’s moving out there, quick pass me the gun!’ What’s going on here? Is someone hiding from would-be home invaders? Maybe they’re hiding from something darker, like zombies perhaps? (It is Hallowe’en after all!). Whatever it is, the aim here is clearly to build some tension. Why else would the speaker need a gun? Now for the second sentence, ‘Shush, I think something’s moving out there, quick pass me the gin!’ Gone is any possible tension, instead there’s something slightly comical about it. Why would the speaker be wanting a gin just because there was something moving outside? It could still be zombies, but it’s more in keeping with Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead.

Which ever one was intended, getting it wrong is going to ruin the image the writer was looking to create in the reader’s mind.  It’s the kind of error that’s very easy to make and one you can only pick up by carefully reading through your work.  For me, I find that, for whatever reason, I’m most likely to miss these types of mistakes if I’m reading my work off a computer screen and more likely to spot them if I print out what I’m trying to edit. Even then, I know I’m likely to miss a few, at least the first time round, and (much as it pains to me admit it) maybe even the second and the third times too. There are two solutions to this. One is to find yourself a good editor to proof read your work, but not everyone has that option available to them.  However, there’s an alternative that’s freely available to everyone which I’ve found can greatly increase my chances of spotting all types of errors in my work.  This is to read it out loud to myself.  Yes, it feels a little daft, especially if someone walks in and catches you doing it, but for some reason the human brain is much better at picking up errors if it hears them spoken out loud than if it just reads them internally. I’ve no idea why this should be but try it, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to spot all sorts of problems with your work.

Anyway, I hope this tip helps you with your editing, and if you happen to meet any zombies when you’re out and about tonight, just make sure you know the difference between where you keep your gun and your gin!

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.