Let’s face it, the occasional typo happens to the best of us, but if your writing is riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings, no editor will want to touch it! What’s worse is the fact that you cannot rely on the spell checker of any word processing program to do the work for you; even if spell check catches all of your spelling errors, it may not catch any misused words. In order to prove your professionalism as a writer and to present your work proficiently, you will need to brush up your overall presentation.
Check Your Spelling
First things first: when you have finished writing your manuscript, be sure to check it for misspelled words by reading it through slowly and thoroughly. The reason for this is that sometimes writers see what they expect to see, instead of what is actually in front of them. By reading over the document slowly, you can scan each and every sentence for errors.
Some writers even recommend reading the story out of sequence; begin your spelling and grammar check by starting with the last sentence at the end of your story and reading each sentence all the way through to the beginning. Although this system may work for some writers, it can create a headache for others so I recommend that you set the manuscript aside for a day or two. Once you have been away from the manuscript, you can return to it and look upon it with fresh eyes. You would be surprised how many errors you will be able to spot!
Another editing technique that I particularly like is listening to what has been written. You can do this by simply reading aloud or you can get a software program that will actually read the work to you! Many free software programs read text: all you need to do is download the program, install it, and cut and paste your information into the text reader. It is important to note however, that text readers do not pick up the emotional quality of words and they do not always read every word properly. Nevertheless, text readers can help writers “hear” the errors they may not necessarily be seeing in front of them.
Finally, if you really want to brush up on your grammar, you should study up on misspelled words. Many dictionaries and online Websites will provide you with a list of the most common misspelled words. An editor finds nothing more irritating than a great story that is poorly written, and misspelled words can cast a shadow over your work. So take up your pen and paper and begin studying the most commonly misspelled words in the English language.
Improper Word Usage
Spell checking may be a wonderful tool, but it has its pitfalls. It certainly does not catch all errors and it often overlooks improper word usage. Thus, the responsibility of correct word usage falls into the hands of the writer. If you are uncertain about how a word should be used, it is time to break out the trusty dictionary. Besides, dictionaries can actually be fun and there are some dictionaries on the market that offer a unique way to look up words. I own a “Descriptionary” that allows me to look up words and their associated descriptions. I also own and recommend a “Flip Dictionary,” a fantastic resource that allows writers to look something up even when they can’t remember what it is called.
When you proofread your manuscript, always make sure that every word you intend to present is accounted for. Sometimes the mind works faster than the writer. Check every sentence for missing or deleted words. In the end, it makes for a complete and polished copy of your work.
Use Your Words Sparingly
No one wants to read text that rambles on in an effort to fill up the page! If you are going to use words, do so sparingly. It is perfectly fine to be creative, but narrative that is too wordy tends to drown out the significance of what is being said. The best way to prevent your work from being too wordy is to limit your adverbs and adjectives.
If you use a lot of adverbs, or “ly” words, you are not using effective verbs. Use stronger verbs and fewer adverbs to tighten your writing. Effective verbs are powerful words that express what you want to get across to your reader in a compact form. Likewise, the overuse of adjectives makes writing seem muddled. When you used adjectives, be prudent about it.
While proofreading your work, be sure to review your punctuation. Does every sentence have a period? Does every question have a question mark? Did you capitalize the first word of every sentence and all proper nouns? When it comes to your finished copy, little things mean a lot! Be sure that every comma, semicolon, colon, quotation mark, and any other punctuation mark is in its proper place.
In short, you want your completed manuscript to shine and editors expect nothing less. If you want to show an editor, publisher or agent that you take pride in your work and that you are a true professional, take the time to polish your final manuscript. In doing so, you will be giving your work the chance it deserves.