Before I start this post, allow me to preface by saying that by no means am I an authority on writing and editing. However, I've learned many tricks of the trade in the last few years, so since aspiring and new authors always ask, I decided to write a blog post about my process.
Before I wrote my first novel, I used to be a proofreader for several publishing companies. So when I sat down to pen the next great American novel—insert laughter—I thought, "I got this!"
I mean, I did this for a living. I had edited theses for graduate students, dissertations for doctorate students, blog posts for highly-respected speakers, and proofread nonfiction books for authors who held PhD's, and of course, hundreds of fiction books.
But, man, was I wrong! The problem is...like looking over my girlfriend’s shoulder while she plays chess or Scrabble, it's easy for me to spot her next move, whereas she’s so wound up in the overall game, she might not see the issue right in front of her.
As the writer of our manuscripts, we will read right over our mistakes, because we are the ones who made them. We know what we meant to say. But give me someone else's novels--yes, even those NYT best sellers--and I assure you, I will find their errors, as most authors can.
That said, when my first novel was published, even though there was an editor from the publishing company, even she missed many little things.
So, I went back to the drawing board, wondering why I couldn't edit my own writing and decided—as I do with everything—to come up with a process and a plan, and then stick to it. Before we begin, let me step back a tad. This post isn't about grammar and punctuation rules. If you don't understand the basic writing rules, this post won't help you. I'm simply offering you the process of how I've managed to ferret out snafus that pop up in all writing: missing words, incorrect words, run-on sentences, and such.
As I would guess every writer does, I run my first spell-check via Word. Please note, this only works if you go into the proofreading mode and recheck the document, which will recheck previously ignored words.
Next stop, Grammarly.
Grammarly doesn't just check for misspelled words, it checks syntax, recognizes common mistakes such as its versus it's, incorrect usage of articles, and one of my favorites, it even recognizes overuse of the same word within a paragraph. Grammarly has many other benefits; I'm just pointing out a few.
And then, Ginger.
While Ginger does many of the same things that Grammarly does, it still seems to catch different issues. For some reason, Ginger seems to catch a missing word and a greater range of homophones.
It may seem like overkill to pay for two spellchecker apps, but believe me, the first one-star review you receive, and you'll wish you would have purchased them. The good news, both of them have trial periods, and Ginger even has a free mode. (Quick note: a well-written novel will not save you from a few one-star reviews. No one can please everyone, but hopefully, at least an unhappy reader won't ding you for grammar mistakes.)
Nope...not finished! This is my favorite step!
This method beats all editing software and even hiring a professional editor, unless she uses this method, which most don't, because it's time-consuming. I'm here to tell you, my friends, nothing beats good old-fashioned listening to root out errors. Reading aloud is great. But even when I tried that method, I'd get tired and would find myself reading over words. But when someone is reading to me, my ear can immediately pick up an error. No matter how many spell-checkers and line edits I use, once I do my final read through when I actually listen to it, I always find at least twenty or so errors. In fact, recently, I was a beta reader for a friend of mine who’d paid a top-notch editor from a respectable editing company eight hundred dollars to edit her manuscript. All I did was listen to the novel while I drove around town running errands, and I found close to one hundred errors. Not…hmm…should there be a comma here errors, but real errors. And my friend is an award-winning, best-selling writer. But it doesn’t matter how well you write, you simply need a third eye…or four. J
The app I love is Voice Dream. I've spoken with the creator, and last I heard, he was working on an online app, but right now, it's only available on iPhone and iPad. And before you ask, I'm not an affiliate for any of the companies I've mentioned, the reason I didn't post links. Matter of fact, Grammarly has offered--along with offering many authors, I assume--to proofread one of my blog posts in exchange for a gift card. Well, I didn't want it, because I wanted to offer my honest opinion on all products, without my readers wondering if I was receiving compensation.
Now...I know some of you are asking, "What about hiring an editor?"
Of course, you should hire an editor, especially if you've never written a novel. If you want the best product you can get, though, you should have your manuscript as clean as possible before it goes to the editor. It is not an editor's job to rewrite your novel. An editor can do a much better job if she's not stopping to insert a comma every sentence, rewriting passive sentences, and constantly tripping over silly errors like their versus there, and other novice mistakes. An editor should be able to spend her time looking at the big picture, catching plot errors, wordy and unnecessary content, and removing the fluff that the author thinks has to be there. She should have the time to take your okay novel and make it a great story!
Oh...you thought we were finished? Not so fast, tiger!
One more step, and it's probably the most important step. After all, I don't care if anyone disagrees with me on this point, as I truly believe that a great story can save a few grammar mistakes, but a well-written novel won't save a boring story. You must have a beta reader! Preferably several, but at least one. Some of my stories, I've only had one or two, but one of them, I actually had TEN! And I swear, every one of them saw something different. Of course, that's why I had so many. I loved the story, but the content was a little questionable, so I wanted to make sure I made it believable and tasteful.
Well, thank you for reading. I won't keep you from your writing any longer. I hope you found at least one thing you could use. Remember, though, these are just my opinions and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. If you have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section, and I promise you I will answer.
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Until next time, happy reading and writing, my friends!