Your Reputation as a Writer

Are you a writer? Do you care about your writing?

Are you satisfied to publish your work for the world to see, when the quality of your writing is less than perfect? Sadly, some writers don’t care, but believe me, readers care.

Not many writers have flawless manuscripts.  Creativity and the mechanics of writing don’t always go together. Working with a good copy-editor  is essential.

I am a writer and a copy-editor–a good one, I think–and still, before I publish anything, I have another writer read my work and then I hire a copy-editor to read it again. I am always amazed at what they find.

I could read my own words over ten times and not see a mistake, but when I read someone else’s words, any mistakes would leap off the page at me. Why is that?

An author knows what their sentences are going to say. Our brain tricks us into thinking that those words are there, and, especially if we are reading silently, we tend to gloss over errors. When reading someone else’s work, we don’t know what is coming, so we see the mistakes more easily.

Why should you care if your writing is perfect or not?

Readers buy books expecting quality for the money they pay. As a writer, it is your obligation to give them your best.  It is a matter of pride and reputation. Do you want to be known as a good writer, or a sloppy one? Do you only want to publish a “one-hit wonder” and never write again? Would you want people to “wonder” why you bothered to publish that carelessly written “one hit”?

I’ve heard many readers say, “When I see one mistake, okay, I can overlook it, but when there is another and another, I lose track of the story and find myself just looking for that next mistake.” What a horrible thing for someone to say about your book. But so true!

When I skim over the first few pages of a book to see if I want to read it, I usually find bits of dialogue to see how that is written. If it has complicated dialogue tags, such as “inquired, responded, answered, replied, questioned,” and “shouted,” instead of “said” and “asked,” I move on to look for another book. Dialogue tags should be like punctuation–important, but not “in your face.”

I look for correct usage of ordinary words such as “its, it’s, your, you’re, their, there,” and “they’re.” I look for incorrect capitalization of “mom, dad, spring, summer, fall, winter, north, south, east, west, sir, madam, heaven, hell,” and many other words. (Note that “Mom and Dad” would be capitalized, but “my mom and my dad” would not be.)

In a short sample of writing, I can usually tell whether the work has been copy-edited or not.

Yes, it costs to have work copy-edited, but the price is not unreasonable. Your reputation hangs on the quality of your writing, and once the work is cleaned up, it will stay that way forever. Unedited work also stays that way and your damaged reputation as a careless writer could follow you around forever too.

Copy-editors  do much more than correct those examples I’ve given. They will check:

  • your sentences for balance to make sure your verbs match the subject
  • if you’ve omitted or repeated words or information
  • grammar
  • punctuation
  • spelling, including homonyms
  • hyphenation
  • capitalization
  • extra spaces
  • verb tense and usage, especially for problem verbs such as “lie, lay, laid, lain”
  • point-of-view errors
  • clichés, and many other errors you may have inadvertently made.

Please visit my website and click on the page for copy-editing if you are interested in having a few pages of your work copy-edited for free.

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Repetition, Repetition!

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Copy-editing involves much more than finding errors in punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Working with authors on their manuscripts, I recognize errors similar to those I made in my early writing.

One of the more common bad writing habits I’ve noticed in my editing jobs is the overuse of words and phrases.

Repetition

We all have pet phrases that we tend to overuse. Watch for repeated words. If possible, avoid using the same word twice in one sentence and check for repetition within a paragraph. Often they are words we overuse even in our speech—some of mine were “maybe,” “just,” and “so”—but more than being annoying to the reader, what starts out to be only a bad habit can damage your writing in more serious ways.

If you know what your pet repeated words are you could use Find in your Word program and it will take you to each instance of the repeated word, giving you the option of changing it to something more interesting. I would wager that you’ll be shocked at the repetitions you’ll find when you look for some of your pet expressions. For example, have you noticed how many times I’ve used the word “pet” in this post? I rest my case.

Another method that is surprisingly simple but works very well is to read your work out loud. You’ll be amazed at what you find. You’ll make corrections automatically because what you wrote doesn’t “sound right” when read aloud.

Why not give it a try and read a page of your writing out loud?

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Capital or No Capital?

Capital letters are important, but should they be used on all important words? Not necessarily.

Here are some general guidelines about where capitals should and should not be used.

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Of course we begin a sentence with a capital letter. That helps to alert us that a new thought is beginning.

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Important people get capital letters. We are all important, so our names begin with capital letters. If you happen to be the prime minister or president of a country, or even a king, queen, prince, or princess, you would have a capital letter on your title as well, but only when it is used as your name. Here are some examples:

Prime Minister Smith said to President Jones, “Are you expecting a visit from King John this year?”

Mr. Jones said, “Haven’t you heard? John is no longer a king. He abdicated to marry that woman who isn’t even a princess or a duchess, or any kind of royalty.”

“Aren’t we lucky? A prime minister or a president doesn’t have to worry about that.”

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One of the most common misuses of capitals is in naming family members. Mother, father, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandpa, and grandma do not get capital letters unless that word is used as their proper name.

When you say, “my mother,” “the mother of the family,” or, “a mother and father,” think of it as if you had a cat or a dog and were saying, “my dog” or “my cat.” You wouldn’t use a capital for dog or cat.

Here are some examples:

My dog can do tricks. See the tricks Rover can do.

My mom is amazing. See what Mom can do. (Here it is used as her name.)

I love my dad. Do you love me, Dad?

My cat is sweet and loving. I love Scruffy.

That is my aunt over by the table. I can see Aunt Mary by the table.

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Places like heaven and hell are very important, but even they are not capitalized.

You can wish you were in heaven or tell someone to go to hell perfectly well without the capitals.

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Important buildings do not get a capital letter unless they are specific ones. The White House is a specific building, so it is capitalized. But if I live in a house that is painted white, it is only a white house.

The same holds true for any university you may be talking about. It only warrants a capital letter if it is a specific university, such as Cambridge University or any other university with a proper name attached.

Do you go to church? If church is important to you, it still doesn’t get a capital letter unless you are speaking of a certain one. Do you go to St. John’s Church?

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Words like nature, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, are all lower case words.

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And lastly, I would like to mention a very common capitalization mistake and that involves the directions of the compass. When the words are written out, south, east, west, and north are not capitalized. Neither are southeast, southwest, northeast, and northwest. But if you use abbreviations (SE, SW, NE, NW), these are capitalized, of course.

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If you are in doubt, use the dictionary. Don’t you think that’s a capital idea?

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