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 www​.per​fec​ted​it​ing​.com:

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.