Add Write With Excellence to your Writer’s toolbox

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I was good at grammar in school. Found it boring but did well. Remembering the fine points—not so much. As an organic writer, I have found that, something sounding right doesn’t make it correct.  When I got acquainted with other writers, I took their advice to heart. Jerry B Jenkins recommended The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s the classic go-to book of grammar for writers. He said he reads through it every year. I determined to do the same. The original bookmark is still there. Halfway through, my eyes blurred. Don’t get me wrong, the information is helpful.  But The Elements of Style is not a cover-to-cover read. Then again, Jerry read through a set of encyclopedias as a kid.

A few years later I met Joyce K. Ellis, grammarian extraordinaire at a writer’s conference. She has a witty way of explaining grammar. Her classes at conferences were always fun to attend. And her grammar column in the Christian Communicator helped me remember what I’d forgotten.

I asked her when she was going to write a grammar book. I promised I would buy it. And over time—and with others asking the same question—Joyce wrote Write with Excellence 201. The tagline is awesome: a lighthearted guide to the serious matter of writing well for Christian authors, editors and students. It is a fun guide through the sticky parts of grammar and some basics we’ve gotten a little sloppy about.

This book is an easy, entertaining read. Each chapter is full of examples of proper grammar use. Lots of helpful stories and examples. There is a quiz at the end of each chapter. No grades here. The answers are in the back of the book.  So, you’re allowed the cheat if you get stuck. The index is a quick, very thorough reference for problem areas.

Write with Excellence is engaging enough to read from cover-to-cover. She even made me consider using the dreaded sentence diagram as a tool. (Maybe) I recommend keeping her book handy for reference as you write. It’s awesome to have at your critique group when questions arise. No more doubts about grammar issues.

I highly recommended adding this great resource to your craft books.

How many of you struggle with the finer points of grammar? What is your favorite resource?

 

Grammarly’s Free Download Helpful to Writers

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Recently, I took the plunge. I downloaded the free version of Grammarly. A software program that corrects grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure. The free version catches my often overlooked typos. My family moved a few weeks into my sophomore year and beginning typing. Therefore, my typing skills are less than stellar. Thanks to the invention of the personal computer I am now able to fix my typos quickly. However, there are still other things I can miss. Grammarly catches those. It underlines the word in question and shows me in a sidebar the problem. Or in some cases the assumed problem.

The program pinged on the word Wok—asking if I might mean walk. Because I was referring to the pan, I choose the ignore button. When it questioned the spelling of neighbor to be corrected as neighbour, I again hit ignore. I didn’t want the British spelling. Most of the time it catches not only misspelled words (my bad typing) but improperly used words, missing articles, etc. Pretty cool. When the software challenges a word, I have found myself coming up with an even better word than the one cited as a possible error. Great way to stretch your creative juices.

A downside, you have to get out of the program to save your corrections. I ran the spell check in Word as a double check. They disagree on a few things.  Words spell check doesn’t come close to catching what Grammarly does, and its limited vocabulary pings errors that aren’t.

Writers still need to do the work.

Grammarly doesn’t replace working hard at crafting good sentences. Nor should it be used as the lazy man’s final draft. My college son relies on it to proof his work. Yes, he admits it’s the lazy way. But as writers, we still need critique partners to help us craft better prose.  We need to practice honing the phrasing of our words until they shine.

As a novelist, the basic program doesn’t understand the need for sentence fragments for pacing or dialogue syntax. For example, woulda used to expression a character’s speech pattern is underlined as misspelled.

Overall it’s a great tool to keep your conscience mindful of your most common errors as you draft your copy. I’d recommend anyone who wants to improve the grammar areas of their writing to give the free download a try. I’ve installed it on FB as well. Everyone notices when a writer has a blaring typo. Haven’t decided if I want to purchase the advanced edition. That portion claims to catch errors on a deeper level. I would recommend checking out the free version.

Have you used Grammarly? What do you think of it?

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Why So Many Rounds of Edits After the Contract?

Today and in other posts until my book is published in March 2017 I thought I’d share the many behind the scenes activities that take place after the contract is signed. This is not a time to set back and relax. Oh no. Whether you publish traditionally or self-publish, there are many steps before you see your book on the shelf.

Rounds of edits

First, is edits. Even though my book was professionally edited before I submitted it, there are still things that need changing.

Pansy O'Hara Did you know that Margaret Mitchell called the heroine in Gone With The Wind, Pansy? The publishers didn’t like her name. So it was changed to Scarlett. And if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, she is Scarlett. The name Pansy doesn’t have the power and sensual premise.

 

For me, my first round of edits included rewriting a couple of scenes. I needed them to be from my main characters’ points of view not the minor characters. I actually found them more powerful after I was finished.

The first edit found typos and grammar errors that were missed  during my final rewrite. We found overused words and mannerisms. I liked Jake to run his fingers through his hair when he was frustrated, nervous or thinking. Well, needless to say it was a lot.

So, the editor’s job is to point those out so I can find new mannerisms. A repetitive mannerism can get on a reader’s nerves and pull them out of the story.

The second edit is to double-check what I fixed and find new stuff like character names interchanged. I recently read a book where the character’s name was Joel and his late brother was John. But in one scene the tagline John said was used. This was not a ghost story.  It should have been Joel. The editor may also question your research. And you may be asked to go back and fact check.

There are two more edits after that. Why so many? You don’t want a reader to review your typos on Amazon.

Beta Readers

Next, Beta Readers read through looking for typos and anything that might take the reader out of the story. I’ve had the pleasure of being a Beta Reader. You receive a PDF file of the book and open another document to record any boo boos you find. I understand you can have as many as 30 Beta Readers. This way, any blaring problems are fixed as well as the miniscule ones.

There will be one more round of Beta Readers. They might receive an Author review copy or an e-book version to read. In the new format other mistakes are found. The goal is a really clean copy. The reputation of the publisher is on the line along with yours.

Read it again

Here is the key for you as a writer. Every time you receive edits. Read. Read the sentence being edited. The paragraph. The page. The chapter. The whole novel. Read as much as you need to be sure the change flows. Read enough to ensure the edits have not changed the story.

You are the author and not every edit is the right choice. Please do accept typos, misplaced names. POV shifts, things like that. But there are other things you might say no to.  If someone felt a scene needed more sensory beats. The smell of the hot asphalt. The chirping of a robin. The snoring of the old man. You are the one who decides if that would add or distract from your story.

Author Review Copies

By the time you get to the second set of Beta Readers there’s very little to be pointed out. Possibly nothing at all. These readers are good candidates for pre-release book reviews.

Some publishers might not edit as thoroughly. They might only use one round of Beta Readers. I don’t know that there is a set formula. And if you self-publish you are going to have to find your own Beta Readers.These should be people who notice details and grammar errors.

Beware of editors who go through a minimal of steps. A wonderful story can be ruined by those little grammar, spelling and POV shift errors. I’ve seen them in printed copy of wonderful books. An e-book can be fixed. But a paper copy will hold on to those errors until a new print run. Not what you want at all.

In between receiving your edits to work on, you will be doing a lot of other things. Next post I’ll tell you what I learned about cover design.

What has been your editing experience?

 

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