A few proofreading tips to improve your manuscript

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courtesy of flickr.com

After last week’s post, I had many comments giving me advice on how to reduce the costs associated with self-publishing. One suggestion was that in time, I might be able to miss out the final professional edit but that I should never miss out the final professional proofread. I have pondered this over the past week and concluded that for the time being, I’m going to have to pay for all the professional help I can afford because as a new writer, I just don’t know enough yet to be sure of my writing.

However, I did recently start a course of training with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Admittedly, it is only the beginners’ course in Proofreading that I’ve been doing but what I know for sure as a result of doing this course, is that I would make a very good proofreader (if you will allow me to blow my own trumpet just this once 😉 ) As a teacher in my day job, I already feel like I spend a lot of my time proofreading anyway when I’m marking children’s books and I have always been good at SPAG (that’s Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to the uninitiated!) My husband’s advice has been that maybe in time, I might feel confident enough to do the proofreading myself, although I know there will be loads of you out there saying ‘No! You can’t do your own proofreading!’ I hear you and I understand.

Anyway, it got me thinking about some of the grammatical things I still find hard after all these years and I thought they would make a good blog post for today. These are a few things that you can do to improve your own manuscript before you send it off to the proofreader, making their job easier and maybe saving you a few pennies along the way.

1. When to use a colon

According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are three main uses of a colon:

  • Between two main clauses, where the second explains or follows on from the first.

By running the marathon, he achieved his goal: to raise £500 for Cancer Research.

  • To introduce a list:

You will need the following ingredients to make your cake: butter, flour, sugar and eggs.

  • Before a quotation and sometimes before direct speech.

The poster stated: ‘Your country needs you!’

 

2. When to use a semi-colon

The main job of a semi-colon is to show a break that is stronger than a comma but not as strong as a full-stop. It is used between two main clauses that are too closely related to be made into separate sentences but would still make sense on their own:

France is my favourite holiday destination; the weather is reliable and the food is delicious.

You can also use a semi-colon instead of commas in a more complex list:

Our holiday itinerary is as follows: three days in Memphis, including a visit to Graceland; three days in Nashville, seeing all the sights, especially The Country Music Hall of Fame; three days in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a final day in Gatlinburg.

 

3. Punctuating Direct Speech

In the UK, we usually teach children to use double inverted commas around speech. However, many style guides recommend using single inverted commas for direct speech. Either is acceptable but you must choose one style or the other and stick to it:

‘I find all these punctuation rules so confusing,’ she said.

‘Me too!’ he cried.

“I find all these punctuation rules so confusing,” she said.

“Me too!” he cried.

You must always start a new line for each new speaker and the final piece of punctuation at the end of the speech, for example, a comma, full stop, question or exclamation mark, must come inside the inverted commas.

 

4. The Oxford or serial comma

Before I started writing, I had never come across this and I’m not sure whether I should feel ashamed about that or not! I’ve probably seen it in lots of writing over the years but just not noticed it. Anyway, if you’ve never come across it either, let me explain. The Oxford comma is an optional comma used for clarification before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list:

I went to the shops and I bought apples for my apple crumble, pears for the tart I want to make tomorrow, and raspberries.

 

One of the things a proofreader will want to know when they start working with you is what your style preferences are and they may ask you if you have a style sheet for them to work with. If you don’t, most will create one for you and check your preferences before they get started. This will allow them to maintain consistency throughout your document.

I have only touched on a few points today and of course, there are many other things a proofreader will look at for you but I hope you find these useful in your writing. I find the Oxford Dictionaries website very easy to understand for grammar issues if there is anything else you want to check up on. Happy writing and please do leave me a message in the comments about your grammar concerns. Thanks for reading as always 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to stay sane while rewriting

5448851027_fa53139280_mFear seems to be the theme for a lot of my posts so far this year 😦

I have been steadily rewriting my first draft for a while now, in fact for the first part of my story, this is more like rewrite number four and every time I think I’ve got it in the bag, I realise that there are still far too many aspects of the story that aren’t quite right yet. Admittedly, I have sought external feedback and now I’m having to take that feedback on the chin, which is proving to be very hard. It feels like I will never be done with the rewrites and that fills me with gloom and fear. I am normally a very optimistic person, a great feat considering I have been married for nearly twenty-five years to someone whose favourite band of all time is The Smiths and favourite singer, Morrissey, by extension 😉 I have spent my life being a glass half-full kind of person but since I started my first novel, I have found myself feeling daunted by the uphill struggle that writing involves. Naturally, I have spent some time wondering why this is and here is my conclusion.

Although there is a wealth of advice out there, there is no single tried and tested method for writing a novel and you wouldn’t want there to be. It’s just that there are so many choices. Should you outline or fly by the seat of your pants? Should you just write until you finish then edit or should you edit as you go? Should you aim for a beginning, middle and end or should you have five plot points, maybe even seven? I could go on but I can see you nodding and don’t even get me started on punctuation! I’m just reading Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ at the moment and whilst I’m enjoying this book by one of my writing heroes, even he would agree that he doesn’t practise what he preaches (see what he has to say about the use of adverbs, for example). As a result, the whole writing process is very confusing for a new writer. It will all be such a relief when we’re writing book number two and we know what to expect!

I read an interesting article by an author called Ryan Casey about five steps you can take to make rewriting less painful. You can read it here:

http://ryancaseybooks.com/rewriting-novel-less-painful/

Three of his points really stood out to me, as follows:

I found his suggestion about creating a rewriting outline very helpful. He talks of the ‘beat sheet’ idea put forward by Roz Morris in her book ‘Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish with Confidence’. Interestingly, I had been trying to do this very thing in an Excel spreadsheet myself, having seen a synopsis tackled this way by a writing friend. I say trying because I was copying and pasting my scene descriptions from my Scrivener document and it was taking so long, I had become bored and given up! I have decided that I will try and finish this to help me get my head round what I have put into each scene so that when, I said, WHEN, I need to go back and change things, it might be a bit easier.

Interestingly, he suggests setting a target of rewriting two scenes a day, in an effort to be realistic about your targets and goals. I have been doing much more than this, steaming ahead on my days off from work which is my precious writing time. The result of this approach for me has been that I now have so much more to put right following the feedback I’ve received. I am under some pressure in that I have joined the RNA’s (Romantic Novelists’ Association) New Writers’ Scheme and this means I have to submit my manuscript for assessment by the end of August at the latest, although I would prefer to do it sooner. However, I think I have to slow down and be patient if I want the end result to be as good as possible.

Finally, he suggests that we should work on a new project to boost our creative energy. I have left my Nano 2013 novel untouched, pretty much since the end of last November and this point made me realise that I miss it 🙂

I now have some new goals to help me and hope that I will be able to get back to it with renewed enthusiasm. I know this is new advice and we’re all feeling overwhelmed with it but the trouble is, when you don’t know the answers, what else are you going to do? Of course, we will all do what feels right for us individually and only in doing so, will we know whether it was right or not. Writing this first book to completion will be trial and error and we will either make it to book two or we will give up between now and then. I sincerely hope that what I have learned so far will help me get there and if I have helped you too, then so much the better.

If you’re stuck in the middle of rewriting, let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Image credit – Flickr – Becca Peterson

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