Two weeks back, we spent time listening to editor Jane MacKay share her insights on why writers need a good editor. (Full disclosure: Jane is my editor and she is amazing!) Jane has worked as an editor since 2007. She takes on independent clients as well as offers her services to a small press she co-founded, Medusa's Muse.
Today, Jane and I discuss spelling. Fasten your seat belts, this will not be pretty.
Okay, Jane, let's talk spelling. You come from the other side of the world from me. I’m a California girl, and I believe you were born in New Zealand. Could you list some of the most common words you see misspelled in manuscripts or documents that land in your inbox?
You are correct. I grew up in New Zealand and have lived in the U.S. since my early 20s, so I’ve now spent about half my life in each country. New Zealand follows British spelling (e.g., colour, dialogue), so I’ve had to become ambidextrous in that regard, although I edit mostly texts by U.S. authors. I don’t know that I’ve noticed any particularly common spelling mistakes, beyond the ones that are constantly being pointed out in memes: your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, etc. Those are more accurately called grammatical rather than spelling errors. I think the red wiggly line of spellcheck helps writers correct most of their spelling errors before the MS comes to me.
Yes, I love my spellcheck! So maybe there are particular kinds of words that trip up the average writer.
One thing to watch out for is homonyms – words that sound the same but are spelled differently, e.g., to, too, two. One common error that I do see a lot is confusion between breath and breathe, loath and loathe, and other similar pairs of words where the final “e” affects the sound and the meaning. In most of these cases (I haven’t looked to see if this is a pattern without exceptions), the word with the final “e” is the verb. The “e” also creates the hard “th” sound at the end. Thus:
breath (“breth”) = noun: a breath
breathe (“breeth”) = verb: to breathe
One way to remember this is that you need the extra “e” for energy for action! Verbs are action words.
Yes, I know one you have tried to help me with is bear v. bare. My answer was to not use it!
If you have your own questions for Jane or would like to know more about her services, check out her website.
Jane will return soon with more tips on grammar and great online resources. If you have a question now, leave it the comments below.
This week, my weary query sits naked before numerous foreign eyes. I stalk Twitter threads for any morsel of reference to mine, mine, mine. Entering live writing contests (such as those hosted and tweeted by Twitter folks) can be nerve-wracking. You feel like a lost dog waiting to be found. You crave that delicious homecoming when someone says, "Yes, you, you're the one I want!"
So why enter these tension-filled writing contests when you know they drive you c-r-a-z-y?
I'll tell you why: because writing contests can make you a better writer. They do - if you remember why you entered.
You entered to become better. Not to win. To improve. That's why I entered the May Secret Agent, The Writer's Voice, and Query Kombat. And why I will enter the upcoming Pitmad.
My top ten reasons to enter writing contests (an ode to David Letterman).
10. Discover new writers.
9. Discover new writers of your genre.
8. Find new ways to stress (hey, how'd that get in here?)
7. Be reminded that fresh unknown talent exists.
6. See what others are writing about.
5. Confirm that others struggle with similar writing issues.
4. Confirm that you've got talent.
3. Learn from your peers.
2. Find writing partners.
1. Become a better writer. (ding, ding, ding, winner!)
If you have the time, and you have a completed manuscript, consider these contests. If you're not quite ready, don't worry, they're here all night (year; all the time!). You can always troll the Twitter threads and eaves drop on some good advice.
Five years ago, when I decided to self-publish my first novel, I did not hire an editor. I was really trying to cut costs on many things, and I didn't think it was worth my money to pay someone else to find spelling errors. After all, I'm an English major and an English teacher. Didn't that over-qualify me to copy edit my own work?
Uh, the answer to that is a very loud, no.
Over the years, I've saved up some money and realized the value in hiring a trained editor to proof my manuscripts and make style and content suggestions. I'm lucky to have found someone who appreciates my narrative voice and is able to locate global errors in my work.
Today, I begin a periodic chat with my editor, so you can benefit from her insight as well.
Please welcome Jane Mackay.
1. Hi Jane, let’s talk today about your advice to authors seeking an editor. I’ve heard some new writers say they can’t afford an editor until they’re published. What might you say to those new to this very competitive industry?
Hi Ellen, thanks for inviting me! That’s a conundrum, and my sympathy is with writers wanting to self-publish or find an agent but without the funds necessary to hire a good-quality editor.
I’m biased, of course, in considering that good editing is necessary, but I’m also a reader, and as a reader, I have very little patience with books that contain poorly worded sentences; errors of consistency or fact; improbabilities that go beyond acceptable suspension of disbelief; poor structure or plot or character development; long boring passages; spelling, grammar and punctuation errors; or anything else that jars me out of the happy immersion in another world that reading fiction provides.
Several authors I’ve worked with have successfully run crowd-funding (or crowdfunding, depending on your style preference) campaigns to finance the editing, design, and publication of their books. One of my favorite author clients has published three short-story collections this way, and is now publishing a novel, all of which I copy edited.
Another option, which came up today on an editor’s discussion list, is asking your editor if you can make incremental payments – three or four or five payments beginning with the deposit when the editor begins work. That way you’re not having to come up with a lump sum. The important thing is to be completely up-front with your editor about how much you’re able to pay and when. If you find out you’re not going to be able to make a payment on time, let the editor know right away. Editors have bills (and rent) to pay too, and if they’re counting on getting your payment on a certain date, but it doesn’t arrive, that could cause problems. It could also detrimentally affect your relationship with the editor, which is a shame, especially if you’re really happy with the editor’s work.
2. In regards to writing support, what are some of the best free resources for an author just starting out?
Online forums are a great place to get advice, concrete information, and oodles of encouragement. I recommend searching Facebook and also doing a general Internet search to find a group or a few groups that suit your temperament and needs. Twitter is also a great place to connect with other writers, and participating in writing-oriented tweet chats (Twitter chats) that have guest hosts can be a valuable way to have direct contact with an editor, agent, or other publishing professional (#k8chat and #litchat are two good ones).
Love #k8chat. That's where I found you, Jane!
There are also many blogs with good advice, including some by agents. The Writer’s Digest website is an excellent resource for all kinds of information related to writing.
Also, don’t forget your local public library – the reference librarian is trained to help you find information that you need. This is a truly valuable resource that many people forget about now that so much is available on the Internet. But librarians have access to resources – and can verify the accuracy of their information – that aren’t generally available. Another good real-world place is your local coffee shop. Spend a few hours there and you’ll soon figure out who the other writers are. You can also post a notice on the bulletin board saying that you’re looking for writers to connect with.
You can contact Jane directly, visit her website, or find her on Facebook to learn more about the world of an editor.
Jane, thanks for visiting the site. Next time, we’ll talk spelling with Jane. Please feel free to leave comments or questions below.
We've visited this topic before, but it's worth another look.
The school day ended as it had begun with the tin rattle of an ancient bell system designed to wake the dead or anyone within a football field of the boxy building.
True story. It’s how I spend my workday sixteen times over, five days a week.
Only once, do you make the mistake to stand directly beneath one of the clattering devils.
However, the jolting rattles own your attention, and there’s no doubt it’s time to get to class.
Oh for the clang of a great story opening. Previously, I’ve shared my favorite YA openers.
This week, my last group of creative writing students for the year works on story beginnings. In a few weeks, we’ll tackle endings.
How do you start your stories? With action? Mystery? Deep thoughts? Humor? Here are our favorites.
Reflect on life. No one does this better than YA it boy, John Green.
“The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.” –Paper Towns by John Green
Reveal theme. For my students, Walter Dean Meyers has a knack for setting up his stories' themes right at the start.
“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. That way even if you sniffle a little they won’t hear you. If anybody knows that you are crying, they’ll start talking about it and soon it’ll be your turn to get beat up when the lights go out.” –Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Meet our hero/heroine. My favorite adult and young adult author, Neil Gaiman, is a master at opening his stories. One of my favorites:
“There once was a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.” –Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Meet someone important/close to our hero/heroine. The people we love to hate from the delightful imagination of J.K. Rowling.
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
Begin with trouble. Many of today's dystopians begin this way, reminiscent of war stories detailing actual history.
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. - The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
Begin with a mystery. Make your readers want to know why right from the very first line.
"All this happened. More or less." -Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
"You better not tell nobody but God." - The Color Purple by Alice Walker
What's your favorite way to open a story? Share them in the comments below.
Let's start May with a writing contest!
What do you know about beginnings and endings? A great story might begin with a brilliant thought, random line, or quirky character, but at some point you'll need to get organized. In the meantime, just write. Regurgitate those ideas swimming about your head. Splatter every thought on the page. When you're ready, when the well's dry, step back and begin that plan. Mold the pieces together into a beautiful tale.
Writing challenges are a great way to practice your writing skills. This week, we take an opening and closing and craft a short tale. Call it flash fiction, mini tale, bitesize story, or whatever.
Below, you'll find three beginnings and three endings. You mix and match. Fill in the middle with a compelling story (as compelling as a few hundred words can be). Have fun!
Rules: choose one beginning and one ending, fill in the rest; keep it to 300 words or less.
1. (Landscape) The summer sun faded and night set in...
2. (Dialogue) "Stop it, Josh! You never listen."
3. (Meet the hero/heroine) She never loved winter, but it was different now since the events of the past summer.
1. "I know. It's not really what I expected at all, but I sure am glad you're here."
2. A single apple tree stood on the burnt hillside.
3. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and walked out the door.
Open to all ages!
This site is filled with many ideas. Feel free to search through my Blog for tips. Try these ones about sensory writing.
You have until May 15 to submit your entry. Paste it in the comments below or add a link with the entry on your own site.
The winner will be featured on this site and receive acclaim on Twitter and Facebook.