Why It is a Good Thing
L. Ruben Willis
L. Ruben Willis
many years, I have had the displeasure of going through a singularly frustrating
experience – reading a published short story or novel and discovering a
glaring spelling or grammatical error. This frustration fueled my feeling
of “I can do better at this than they are – and they are published!”
This feeling was one of the reasons I turned from the role-playing hobby to a
more structured form of storytelling.
a few years of experience, including a two-year-run as a fairly successful
author of fan-fiction, two fanzine articles, and a job editing a friend’s
first novel, I made a rather eye-opening discovery. Editing is hard work!
there are a few things that the writer can do to self-edit. These items
edit before submitting your work – even online.
read what you’ve written after you write it.
blindly trust your spell-checker/grammar-checker.
be willing to revise your work.
of the biggest flaws I found in the fan-fiction community was the tendency of
many writers to post without ever editing. This was most obvious because
many fan-fiction sites do not require any sort of editorial process before a
work is posted – the submission process is as simple as typing a reply in a
message-board thread. Even fanfiction.net, which is one of the largest
general fan-fiction communities in the online world, has no editorial standards
for submissions. You need only to submit the document in the proper
file format. The resulting pieces are frequently poorly edited.
may ask, “How does this apply to me? I write original fiction, to be
sold to X magazine or publisher. I’m not some amateur writer who
doesn’t care about how his work looks when it is read.” However, a
poorly edited submission can easily end up in the wastebasket, without being
means it is necessary to do some level of editing before sending your work off.
The first step in this process is the author’s self-edit. As an author,
you need to acquire the ability to look critically at your own work. This
ability will allow you to catch the myriad errors that crop up in the process of
day-to-day writing. These errors, uncaught, go on to the next person who
reads your work, and can impact their qualitative impression of it.
specific area that demands special notice is that of verb tenses. How many
times in normal conversation do we hear someone use the wrong verb tense?
How many popular songs abuse those same rules? Thirty or more years ago,
such improper speech would have drawn scorn. Nowadays, improper verb
tenses are often viewed as an acceptable part of normal conversation. What
we hear repeatedly from others can have a tendency to slip into our everyday
speech (we never entirely outgrow the childish propensity for repeating things
we hear from others), and then into our writing. It can be very grating to
read a manuscript written in past tense that keeps slipping into present tense.
is common for people who do their writing in a word processor to rely solely
upon their spell- and grammar-checking software. Often, such reliance
ignores the fact that such software is relatively simple in construction,
utilizing an abridged dictionary of words and a simplified set of grammar rules.
Such software is not set up to handle all the intricacies of one of the most
complex languages in the world – English.
addition, most computer spell-checkers are not capable of handling spelling
within context – which means that the computer will not do well catching some
of the most common of spelling errors – homophones. The computer will
accept such mistyped snippets as “two be or not too bee” and “hear and
word processing programs try to overcompensate for the typist’s errors.
The program will automatically edit what you have typed to meet up with a match
from its built-in dictionary, regardless of whether the edit is warranted.
This AutoCorrect function can be extremely frustrating, and applies to both
spelling and grammar. Save yourself a lot of frustration – either take
the time to make sure all of the default settings that your word processing
program refers to are set up exactly the way YOU want them, or turn the darn
thing off. If you don’t, you will regret it, believe me!
you are telling yourself, “I’ve re-read my work, and caught all of those
errors that made it past me as I was writing. I’m good to go!”
However, you are not ready yet.
one of us is human, which means that errors could get past us, especially if we
are less critical of our work. A great tool that you can use before
submitting your manuscript is to ask a friend, relative, or other person that
you trust to read your work. This person is called a beta-reader.
are very important, even if they do not have any knowledge of the craft of
writing. The beta-reader can read something, uncolored by the
preconceptions that of the author. They most likely do not know all of the
background for what was written, so they will look at your work on its own
merit. They will be able to say whether your piece works for them as a
reader. To you as a writer, they are representative of the people you want
to understand your writing.
from beta-readers can be extremely varied, depending on their level of knowledge
about writing. Some beta-readers will only be able to offer commentary
about how smoothly a story was told, while others may very well be able to give
you a near-professional level edit. As writers, it is useful for us to
seek out both types of beta-readers, because the former will offer comments
about how well we are conveying our ideas, while the latter will give you
valuable insight into corrections that need to be made before submission.
You might notice that many published authors even acknowledge their readers in
their work when it finally sees print.
you get input back from your beta-readers. What do you do then? This
is time to roll up your sleeves and do something that tugs at the heartstrings
of many writers. It is time to revise.
is an ongoing process. More than once I have heard a full-time,
professional writer state to a workshop that “my work is never done – I am
always revising.” It is one of the hardest truths in the writing
profession. Just like a gardener needs to prune his rosebushes, so too
must a writer tend to his work, even after it has been created.
revision is a necessary process for the writer, the inability to revise can be a
major stumbling block for the aspiring writer. It is easy to internalize
your work, and to view every cut as a wound to oneself. It is even easier
to become overprotective of your work, refusing to even consider revisions that
work we create is akin to a diamond in the rough. It takes polishing and
strategic cutting to get a dull lump of crystallized carbon to take on the
scintillating form and luster of a gemstone in a jeweler’s store. To
bring that diamond to its full brilliance, cuts and polishing are often
editing may very well be necessary to make your work the best it can be.
Being totally unwilling to revise can trap your work in a static form that will
reduce its chances of seeing print.
you have revised, you may want to go back through the same checks that you made
before, watching for other errors that made it past before, as well as errors
and inconsistencies that crept in while you were revising.
you have self-edited to a level that you are satisfied with, send your work off.
The chances are that your prospective buyer will be more impressed by your
polished work than he would have been with your first rough draft. That
increases the chance of your work seeing print. And that is what I call a