An editor is your ally, not your enemy

Nobody writes perfect prose the first time around. Oh there might be a killer sentence or two but the work will still need editing. That’s what writing’s all about – getting that first draft down and then going back to rewrite and revise…again…and again…and again.

An editor is your ally, not your enemy. They’ll catch the typos, spelling mistakes and awkward sentences and let you know when a passage isn’t clear. They’ll point out repeated words, where you’ve used passive voice and the extraneous bits that need to be cut.

And they’ll nudge you in the right direction when it comes to focus, the concept of “less is more” and opening your piece with something that grabs the reader’s attention.

Rick's red ink
After I edited this page and gave it back to Rick he said, "Did you have time to really look at this? There isn't much red ink!"

The first editor is you. It can be difficult to see the flaws in your work but the more you do it the better you’ll get. A good way to learn is by reading similar material with a critical eye. What works? What doesn’t? What makes you want to keep reading? What makes you yawn?

For me the editing process is largely intuitive. I know when something’s not working – not necessarily why – just that it’s not right. Maybe the words don’t flow, the way I’m explaining something is boring or the first paragraph needs to be moved to page three.

Be open to expressing your comments in a different way. Read your work out loud and look at it both on your computer screen and in print. Change, remove, rearrange – it’s all part of the process. Be ruthless, if you have a wonderful sentence, paragraph or chapter but it doesn’t belong in this book, save it for another story.

Eventually someone else needs to edit your writing. I’m lucky. Rick, my partner, is also a writer and we go over each other’s work on a regular basis. Sometimes when he returns a piece it seems like he’s marked it with miles of red ink. But I’m grateful for the feedback.

Although family and friends can be good editors, they’re probably not professional writers or editors. Sooner or later your work needs the skills of someone who understands the writing industry.

If you sign a book contract, most publishers will assign an editor. If you’re self-publishing or want to polish your work before submitting it, you’ll need to hire someone yourself.

Remember, your editor wants the same thing you do: for your book to be the best it can. Chances are, their suggestions will get rid of any glitches and strengthen the plot and narrative.

If you don’t agree with one of their comments, feel free to discuss the pros and cons of making a certain change. Editing is a collaborative process. And one that’s vital if you want your work to shine.

Clean Copy

The Fine Art of Proofreading

Placenta and placemat, the difference is obvious. Or maybe not.

Everyone knows how easy it is to misspell words, especially if you’re going like gangbusters on the computer. No matter how good a typist you are, fast fingers tend to strike the wrong keys from time to time. And everyone knows how unprofessional and sloppy it looks when you receive a letter, story or email riddled with typos.

Proofreading can be time consuming and boring. But it’s also necessary. Especially if you’re wrapping up a report for work, submitting an article to a magazine or writing the final draft of The Great Canadian Novel.

And the frustrating part of it is, once you write something, your eyes and brain tend to see what you meant to write, not what’s actually on the page or monitor screen. So you can read the text over and over and never spot the typos.

Here’s an example I found at

Accdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Proofreading tips

  • Proof more than once. Professional proofreaders think nothing of going over a document 10 times or more.
  • If you have misspelled a word in the past, chances are you will do so again.
  • Read what you see, not what you think is there.
  • Do your proofreading in a quiet place where you won’t be distracted.
  • Read the text out loud.
  • After you finish writing something, set it aside and proof it later. (The next day is best.)
  • Have someone else proofread your work; they’ll spot things you miss.
  • Proof a print copy, as well as from the computer monitor.

And then there’s spell check, a wonderful invention that catches misspelled words and grammatical errors. But it’s not foolproof. Spell check doesn’t differentiate between here and hear, to and two or bare and bear. As long as a word is spelled correctly, it isn’t highlighted.

And sometimes strange things happen. An article I wrote for a newspaper contained a word that didn’t belong in it. I didn’t put it there, spell check did. I didn’t notice it and neither did the editor. Luckily, a proofreader did.

When the editor called to check the wording and read, “The company is presenting a new line of colourful placentas,” I laughed so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. The correct word, of course, was placemats. Somehow during the spell check my hand must have spasmed and clicked placenta to replace the misspelled word placemat.

So, if you want people to be engaged in your content, not distracted by typos and spelling mistakes, take time to proofread. And yes, that means emails too.