I’m ecstatic to welcome my friend and critique partner Abby Cavenaugh to New Writer Wednesday to share editing tips. Abby is a small-town newspaper editor by day, and an aspiring-to-be-published writer by night. She’s fueled by dreams and chocolate, and loves to help her fellow writers. She lives in North Carolina with her twin sister, also a writer, six-year-old niece and a cat with boundless energy named Gus.
Welcome Abby! Thank you for pouring your wisdom onto us. (Please, I need editing help! PLEASE!)
With a day job as a newspaper editor, I’m probably way more vigilant about editing than most writers. In fact, my latest manuscript, DEAD TALKER, probably went through more edits before it was even finished than most manuscripts do before being submitted to an agent or publisher. I’m anal, what can I say?
But you, dear readers of the fabulous Lizzy Charles blog, can benefit from my suffering over every comma, every misuse of they’re, their and there. I am here to impart some of my editing wisdom, and hopefully help at least one person out there get closer to a polished manuscript.
In addition to being a newspaper editor, I’m also a critique partner and beta reader for at least 10 other writers. I’ve read manuscripts of all genres, and even when I’m not supposed to do line edits, I do them anyway. I can’t help it!!
There are some common mistakes we all make. Yes, I’m including myself in this. Although I am Ms. Nitpicky Editor Extraordinaire, I make mistakes, too. Lots of them.
Here are some of the grammar/spelling snafus I’ve seen time and time again.
1. Overuse of words. We all do this, whether we realize it or not. For me, it’s the words “just” and “that.” I’m aware that I use them when I don’t need to, yet I do it anyway. Every single time. Every word counts in a manuscript, and when you use words you don’t need, it throws off the reader. I’ll pick on myself here. My first finished and polished manuscript, GOING HOME AGAIN, originally had, I think, 37 uses of the word “asshole.” Yeah, that’s a bit much, right? I went through the entire manuscript, and I kept some of the assholes, but others I turned into other insulting words, like douche bag, bastard, etc. Do a search for commonly used words and replace them. You’ll be glad you did. Not just glad. Simply glad. (See what I did there?)
2. Misuse of words. One of my biggest pet peeves, and I’ve seen bestselling authors do this, so if you do, don’t feel bad! Some words of wisdom: there is a HUGE difference between the meanings of the words they’re, there and their; you’re and your; also, not quite as common but often misused—peek, peak and piqued. You take a peek at a manuscript. You climb to the peak of a mountain. Your curiosity is piqued. See the difference? There are many other examples (sight, site; steal, steel; peel, peal; I could go on…)
3. Past vs. present tense. This happens a lot in the editing/rewriting process. Maybe your manuscript was originally written in past tense and you decided to make it present tense, or vice versa. Either way, make sure before you send your baby off that it’s got all its tenses in a row. If your character walks into a room, make sure he or she doesn’t sauntered back out.
4. Missing words. The human eye will often see words where there no words. (Of course, the word “are” is missing from that sentence, but your brain knows that’s the word that’s supposed to be there.) I’ve recently read three friends’ manuscripts and they all three were missing words in sentences—usually connecting words like “be,” “been,” “the,” “a,” and so on. The best way to make sure you don’t make the same mistake is to have someone else look over your manuscript with fresh eyes. You’ve read it so many times, you’ll see words where there are none.
I’m sure there are more I could think of, but the best way to combat these common errors is to have critique partners—and lots of them. Like I said, I have at least ten. Not everyone needs that many, but I find it’s nice to get all those different perspectives.
If you have any editing questions, or would like for me to edit your manuscript, feel free to contact me at @abswrites on Twitter, or abscavenaugh(at)gmail(dot)com.