Tag Archives: editing

Grammar in the Cat-iest (Best) Way

Special thanks to grammarian extraordinaire and friend-to-cats Tex Thompson for her shout-out and grammar lesson featuring my very own cat! My own naughty kitty can now help you learn more about the “royal order of adjectives” (he’s the one who prefers Coke products and espionage).

Tex is a great resource for the fine and tricky points of grammar that can be hard to grasp and harder to explain. She’s one of my favorites, too. Check her out!

From her post:

“The what?  The royal what?  Don’t be coming ’round here with all your highnesses and majesties and HMS Jolly Longbottoms.  This is AMERICA, dammit, and we speak democracy!”

YES WE DO.  And that means we have the right to life, liberty, and a full, complete understanding of where all those dang commas go between the adjectives — including the reason why we have one in “full, complete understanding” but not in “all those dang commas.”

Read more to get all the deets!

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Gifts for Writers: Great ideas!

Love this list of non-notebook gifts for writers.

Family members have been giving me notebooks–and fancy pens–as gifts since I got out of college. It’s a nice sentiment, really, it is, but all of my writing really happens in my laptop (it has the smudge marks from repeated use to prove it). I like the pens but I’m always afraid of losing them, and some of the notebooks are really precious but I don’t want to “ruin” them by marking in them and then forgetting about them.

But a friend gave me an editing-themed mug and I have used the heck out of that. (I particularly like it when I’m editing, duh). So more of that, please!


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Whatever You Do, Don’t Push ‘Publish’

You’ve finished NaNoWriMo! You’ve completed a whole book in a month! You are seriously hot stuff! Go get a cookie. No wait, get two. You’ve earned it, kiddo.

“But wait,” you’re saying, “I’m busy right now. I was just about to publi–”


Don’t push that button.

This post was originally going to be called “Advice to Past-Me,” because I have SO been there — and still step over there when the flights of fancy get a bit giddy — but I realized this feeling probably applies to a lot of people coming down off that writing euphoria.

I know the feeling, believe me I do. You have just written the most amazing piece of writing the world has ever known. You are going to be so famous. Your book is like the lovechild of J K Rowling, Isaac Asimov, and all the best parts of your favorite movies. It’s gonna be so big, you guys.

Coming down off that writing high is exactly like being a 15-year-old who just had a first date and held hands for the first time. OMG! That was, like, the best ever! Your heart is all fluttery and it feels like it must burst if you don’t show the world RIGHT NOW because this is your moment and you owned it and nobody understands.

But I beg you: Don’t publish right away.

You may be right. I hope you are! I hope your book really is the next best thing. But if it is, then it won’t be hurt by what I’m going to recommend, and it might save you from the pain of rejection.

The first thing you should do? Walk away from your work for a month, minimum. Go on, you’ve earned the break! And if you still want to keep writing, go do something else. NOT a sequel or whatever. Just something totally different.

After that month, gently crack open your manuscript again, give it a read. It may not look as shiny as it did when you put it down; that’s ok, just do some edits, put in the work. If it does look amazing, first of all, you are a lucky duck. Second, get another opinion. It can be the opinion of your mom or your husband or your kid or your neighbor down the hall, but do tell them to be honest with you.

They’re not going to be honest with you. They’re going to try to be nice to you. But they might try to gently tell you they didn’t “love love” that one little teensy part. This will feel like ultimate betrayal, but this is what you need. Go work on that part.

Then, share your work with someone else, someone less close to you, if you can. Someone who can more reliably destroy your feelings for the sake of good work. (Warning: these people are often hard to get to actually read the danged thing). Take it to a critique group, if you have one.

This is going to feel like someone is stepping on your heart, crushing it into jello. But that’s okay. Your work will be better for it.

Then get your work edited, by someone who is not you. If you are exceptionally lucky, you know someone who is gifted in this area who will do it for free, but these people are special snowflakes, so don’t be discouraged if you need to pay for it. In fact, I don’t trust any unpaid editors, personally. If your work really is the best thing ever, you want it to shine! Stories with typos do not shine, as a rule. Put your money where your mouth is!

(If you don’t know where to find an editor, start Googling. I like Writer.ly. I also happen to be a copy editor, and editing is one of the things I love to do… )

Now, after you have gotten your manuscript reviewed a few times and it’s edited, now maybe it really is the best work ever.

It’s also probably been at least six months since you finished writing it. Maybe it’s a year. But that’s okay! A novel is not a mayfly, emerging whole overnight. It’s an ant colony; it takes time and coordination and help to build it up into something incredible.

Now… now you can publish. Or you can start the process of contacting agents and trying to be traditionally published.

I know that all might sound mean and/or out of touch, because that initial excitement is SO heady. Don’t lose that excitement, but do try to put it in its correct context. That’s really hard to do, particularly when it’s your first rodeo. Slow your roll, new writer. It is more rewarding then publishing prematurely and facing the barrage of poor reviews.

Don’t do it. Not yet, anyway.


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Editing Quick Hit: Like vs. Such as vs. Including

This is one of those times that spoken English has messed up written English, because casually, we do not care. But in writing, sometimes this one actually matters. (You’ll hope your lawyer understands this grammar rule.)

“Like” means “similar to but not including.”

“Such as” means “similar to AND including.”

“Including” means… including, or, as the dictionary likes to say “containing as part of the whole being considered” (that’s Google’s dictionary, btw). And works as a more flexible catch-all when you’re confused about whether you should be using “like” or “such as”

Let’s just assume the pomegranate is behind the pear back there, ok? Ok.

So putting this to work, an example: If you are picking out a fruit to eat and know you like apples but aren’t in the mood for one right now, you might say “Give me something like an apple” and I might hand you a pomegranate. (Because a pomegranate is similar to, but not, an apple)

If you are picking out a fruit later but now are more flexible on what you’d like, you might say, “I’d like a fruit such as an apple, orange or banana” and I might hand you any of the three or I might hand you a pear. (Because you want something similar to the things you listed, as well as the specific fruit you mentioned.)

If I’m offering you fruit from my selection and just want to list them off, I’d go with “I have a variety of fruits for you to enjoy, including an apple, banana, pear, orange and pomegranate.” If you wanted a grapefruit, I’d have to send you down to the grocery store to buy one yourself.

Got it?

Hungry now? Man, I want a strawberry after all that fruit.


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Editing Quick Hit: Month and Year

For some reason, people sometimes have a proclivity to write dates like this: “February of 1990.”

This flummoxes me, because the correct way is actually easier: February 1990. And you’d never say “February of 1990” aloud, would you?

I mean, no one says, “Oh yes, I got that cat sweater during the Christmas of 2011.” Unless you’re working on your Abe Lincoln impression, maybe, trying to sound old-timey?

Perhaps it’s an effort to aggrandize your writing. Well, stop it! Stop it, I say! Leave “of” out of your dates. They’re happier that way.

November 2013. Done.


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Editing Quick Hit: Latter vs. Ladder

This is an easy slip-of-the-fingers to make, because when said aloud, “latter” and “ladder” frequently sound pretty similar.
But “ladder” is for the thing with rungs you climb to get to a high place. “Latter” is the much less common word you use in the phrase “the former and the latter” (meaning the one prior and the one second).
I tried but failed to come up with a helpful mnemonic for this: anyone have suggestions?

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Review: The Subversive Copy Editor

The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself)The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book when I was first really starting But I am very well aware that not everyone is as privileged to be taught that fundamentals of editing from experienced professionals who also happen to be professors, as I was. (Shout-out to Maggie and Jake at Mizzou!) For you, I say: Read this book!

Saller tackled the difficult task of talking about a fairly dry subject while making it accessible to folks who knew nothing as well as folks who know a lot. And kept it interesting.

There are two parts: 1) How to work with the text in the readers’ best interest and 2) How to work.

The first section (How to work with the text) lays out the “subversive” approach Saller advocates: basically, do no harm… even if that means not adhering completely strictly to the stylebook. (*cue communal gasp of shock from the true pedants*)

This is my philosophy, and it’s great! I think it’s the best way to keep a story true to the author’s vision while making the story comprehensible to the reader.

But it’s tricky when you’re a new copyeditor, because it more or less requires you know all the rules and then willfully choose to ignore them when it is appropriate to the book. (There’s a big difference between not changing something because you don’t know it’s wrong and not changing something because it’s wrong but it makes sense for the story.) This means acknowledging that every story is different and will have distinct needs.

Personally, I think that’s a beautiful thing, but not every editor or writer will agree with me.

The second part–how to do the business stuff–was what I was really reading the book for, and that’s the half that earned this book only 4 stars instead of 5. It told me a lot of what I already knew here, too, but the difference was that it said stuff that I figure most business people should know. Things like “don’t pick needless fights,” and “be nice to others.” I realize that’s probably idealistic of me to think most people already know that kind of thing, and it certainly is good advice for the utterly clueless, but that wasn’t really what I was coming to the table for. Aside from the one chapter on freelancing, there wasn’t a lot that I found truly applicable to my career–especially as it is increasingly unlikely that publishing house jobs will continue to exist in the future (but I’ll knock on wood, anyway). And the freelancing chapter didn’t match the kind of freelancing I actually do, so even that wasn’t ideal.

That being said, this book was great. I think it might be particularly good for a writer who is fearful of handing her manuscript over to a copyeditor or doesn’t really understand why she should bother. (We can help, I promise! In fact, we LOVE to help!)

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Untrustworthy Friend: Trust, But Verify, Spellcheck

After editing a killer YA manuscript for a client, I began my customary closing procedure: I ran spellcheck.

Yes, I own several stylebooks and a dictionary or two and have been a copyeditor for nearly a decade now, but I still run everything through the handy-dandy spellchecker.

It’s practically a copyeditor’s motto: You can always benefit from a second pair of eyes. Or, in this case, bytes.

Spellcheck (and its smartphone compatriot Autocorrect) has its merits. I run it after I’ve completed an edit to make sure I haven’t accidentally created any mistakes, see if I missed anything, and if Microsoft has any more brilliant thoughts than I do. And I caught at least 5 or 6 more little changes (including the misspelling of one unusual name!), so, job well done, spellcheck!

I recommend everyone use spellcheck. It’s a great way to slow down and look at your work with a “different brain.”

But, just like the old journalism quote: Trust, but verify.

Spellcheck is far from flawless. It just doesn’t understand the nuances that humans understand. For example, spellcheck gets deeply affronted with every blasted sentence fragment and with using “, then” as a joining clause. Don’t be pedantic, spellcheck. A human can tell that the fragment and that joining clause are used that way for effect, to improve pacing. If I had obediently allowed spellcheck to “correct” every one of those “problems,” the story would have been dramatically slower and it would have killed the conversational tone.

I’m grateful for spellcheck: it’s saved me from embarrassing myself on many occasions. Though I sometimes think it’s atrophying my brain a little because I no longer have to have every little thing memorized, it’s also helpful to see that little red wavy line to make me say “hm, am I doing this the best way?”

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Kind Endorsement from a Great Client

Aww, thanks! Eric Edstrom is a fantastic writer with some really exciting Young Adult pieces in the works, and you should go follow him, too.

And if you ever need a copy editor or a proofreader, let’s talk! I’m always happy to work with new clients with exciting stories to tell.

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Is There an Echo in Here? Editing Out Repetition

Inspiration can come from the damnedest places, and so today’s editing lesson comes from a rather old inspiration: the Bible. Specifically, the book of Daniel, chapter 3.

You’ve probably heard this one, the story of the three guys who refused to worship a golden idol and were thrown into a blazing furnace but didn’t die because God was down with their loyalty. (Veggie Tales has a pretty fun take on it if you want a refresher–Rack, Shack, and Benny).

But this is an editing lesson, not a Bible lesson. Bear with me here.

If you go read that first link, you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. Daniel Chapter 3 is really repetitive.

  • “the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials” –stated 3 times
  • “the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music” – stated 4 times
  • “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” -stated 4 times (one has a different tense, but close enough)
  • “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”–always listed together, just like that, is repeated 11 times.

To be clear, it’s not that long a chapter. Let’s just say the congregation got pretty restless during the reading. It was like “come ON already, get to the point!”

Shel Silverstein does repetition right. I love “Lazy Jane.”

Repetition has its place–it’s a fantastic way to provide emphasis, and you should certainly have repeating themes throughout your book. Stephen King in On Writing talks about how he specifically went back and added more mentions of blood and blood-related imagery to Carrie to help sneakily prepare the reader for the bloody mess at the end.

But often writers end up a bit more like the book of Daniel, just repeating things for the sake of it. I mean, I don’t think this chapter would have been changed at all had some of those “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”‘s been changed to “the three men” or, heaven forbid*, “they.”

A lot of the time, our repetitions are smaller: “crutch words.” Every writer has a certain proclivity to use the same word over and over and over and over. (Mine is “actually.” I shudder when I reread my manuscripts and find it everywhere. Bleah.) Another one I see a lot in my editing is “seemingly” or “seemed to.” (For the most part, if something “seems to be,” you can just cut it out entirely…if you’re locked into a character’s perspective, everything they perceive can just be reported.)

The problem with this kind of needless repetition is a) it bores your reader which b) makes them less likely to keep reading. It slows the pace down dramatically, which can kill your pivotal scene. Even if you don’t notice your crutch words, I guarantee the reader will.

Repetition, particularly of “crutch words” because they’re harder to notice when its fresh, is one of those things that justify an editor, or at least a second read after you’ve put it down for awhile. Your grammar and spelling can be perfect, but if you’ve got a bunch of repeated phrases, it’s going to throw the reader out of the flow. But take the time (and, often, money) to get it thoroughly edited, and you’ll cut down, if not outright cut out, a lot of the problematic repetition.



*This is a joke. Get it? Heaven forbid? Bible? I’m hilarious.

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