Category Archives: Editing

Self-editing your Manuscript

 

Before you shoot your manuscript off to the press, you need to do one thing.

Read the book, your book, a few times. Many writers are hesitant to do this. You might remember an old-fashioned teacher asking you to read your paper once before submitting. You may have never followed this advice, but it makes sense to read your manuscript at least once before sending it to a publisher or literary agent for review and also before you self-publish.

read

Why should you self-edit?

Self-editing could help you make important connections that could improve the story.

You could catch a few unnecessary typos, repetitions and grammatical errors.

Since your story benefits from the extra read, do it!

If you find reading from the computer hard, you can take a print out and read. Otherwise, the computer is a good option as you can track changes and go back to the original if you wish.

What should you be looking for in your book?

Once you’ve written the book, and left it alone for a while, you can go back to it and check for plot problems, inconsistencies, anachronisms, etc.

You can separately look for grammar issues, typos, and punctuation. A simple spell check can save your manuscript from loads of mistakes.

Are you using big words just because they make the manuscript look more sophisticated? If the word makes no sense, remove it even if it is a big word and makes you look smart.

Entrust a couple of beta-readers to fill you in on different aspects of the book to give you a perspective of any areas of the book you might need to rework.

Before sending your book to an editor, you need to make sure that your copy is readable. If you can’t read it, nobody can.

Don’t hesitate to take professional help if your manuscript requires it. A fresh eye can do wonders for your manuscript.

Some links that can help you with self-editing:

http://www.jerryjenkins.com/self-editing/

http://amandashofner.com/5-tips-self-edit-novel-effectively/

http://thewritelife.com/self-editing-basics/

Six Tips for Indian Writers on How to Write Better

For people whose native tongue is an Indian language, it is difficult to write error-free English. Even those who speak English all the time but live in India cannot avoid the Indian-ness that seeps into their language, both spoken and written.

  1. Avoid literal translation

    For new Indian writers, there is a strong tendency to literally translate from their mother tongue into English.Each language has a specific structure, without which the language would collapse or turn into something ridiculous. For example, in French, most adjectives are placed after the noun, such as ‘une chaise bleue’. If translated word-for-word into English, this becomes ‘a chair blue’ instead of what it should be: a blue chair. Imagine reading a sentence like this:“There were chairs blue, tables of wood, cushions red and music soft playing.”

    This is how a reader feels while reading English that has been directly translated from an Indian language. The result is confused, sometimes hilarious, meaning.

    You may have read these often:

    • “Don’t eat my head!”
      (Kannada: Nanna thale thinnbeda)
      Try: “Stop it. You’re getting on my nerves!”
    • “Don’t be angry on me.”
      (Hindi: Mujhpe gussa mat karo)
      Use: “Don’t be angry with me.”
    • “We all are going out.”
      (Hindi: Hum sab bahar ja rahe hain)
      Use: “We are all going out.”

    Keep a watch on these literal translations.

  2. Original idioms, please

    English has its own set of idioms and sayings—use them and not the translation of Indian ones. Idioms have a strong cultural and historical root, so they are best used word for word and in the original language.The Hindi ‘Daal mein kuchh kaala hai’ has the English idiom equivalent: ‘There’s something fishy going on’. Instead of the Tamil ‘Kazhudaikki theriyuma karpoora vaasanai’ use ‘To cast pearls before swine’. Not all sayings have equivalents, however. The best way to become familiar with what’s available is to read a lot. Looking up a book of English proverbs doesn’t always help unless there are a few examples for each included and the author is a reliable one. Online, have a look at Idiom Dictionary (http://www.idiomdictionary.com).

  3. Keep track of time
    Till a sentence back, you ‘were’ thinking. Suddenly you ‘are’ feeling. You may not realize it while writing and this switch may even sound natural because we often think haphazardly, but while writing, you need to maintain consistency in tense or you’ll distract or confuse the reader about whether something happened in the past or is happening in the present.Take a look at this example:

    Veena walked up the path to Mr Wood’s house. She is thinking she should knock but what if he is sleeping? She doesn’t want to disturb him and get him in a bad mood. That is why she could not make a sale. She had irritated him.

    Is Veena walking to Mr Wood’s door as we read? Or has she already walked and come back after a failed attempt at making a sale?

    Double check if you’re switching tenses in your writing without the story demanding it. Sometimes it is necessary to change tenses, say for a time when you’re narrating a scene in a flashback as if it’s happening right before the reader. But if you’re a new writer, stick to a single choice of tense throughout and you won’t go wrong.  Once you become confident of using tenses properly, you can try using more than one.

  4. Unclutter your punctuation

    There is a tendency to use exclamations in proportion to the amount of surprise or shock.

    E.g. A mountain gorilla was standing before him!!!!!!!!!

    Another is to intersperse the exclamations with question marks.

    E.g. Was the hunk eyeing her?!?!?!

    Please. Stick to one punctuation mark. “A mountain gorilla was standing before him!” shows surprise enough. “Was the hunk eyeing her?” will do. Trust readers to get the quantity of shock or wonder you intend. And trust your writing skills to convey the situation so that they do.

    English punctuation rules do not accept a combination of ? and ! or multiple exclamations. A few style books have begun to accept one pair of ?! but most do not.

    Many new writers like to create an ‘effect’ by trailing dots after a sentence.

    E.g. She stood before him……………in the black dress he had given her……

    The punctuation that uses dots is called an ellipsis and consists of three dots (…). No more, no less. Sometimes, you want to trail off a sentence and end it that way. Then you follow the ellipsis with a full stop, which then totals four dots.

    E.g. And there she waited for him every day….

    Multiple exclamation marks and generous strings of dots reek of amateur writing. Knock them off. These are simple ways to make your writing look professional.

  5. Articles gone AWOL

    Can you eat a curry with no salt? Similarly, you cannot write without articles. If you’ve forgotten the basics of when to use ‘the’ or ‘a’ or ‘an,’ please pick up a simple grammar book and leaf through it (you can do it with a torch, hiding in a cupboard if you like—but do it). Simpler still, visit a grammar site online, bookmark it and refer to it when in doubt. You don’t visit Taj Mahal, you visit THE Taj Mahal.It’s never too late to learn, and these are simple rules that, when followed, make your writing come alive. The rules exist to help you remember, not to make your life difficult.

  6. Remove redundancy

    Find the repetitious words in the following:

    1. That store sells many delights such as cookies, cakes, toffees, chocolates, etc.
    2. I have never heard of this before.
    3. I will read this and return it back to you.
    4. Keep this money, in case you may need it later.
    5. I bought a red colour dress.

    In the first example, when you say ‘such as,’ you don’t need the etcetera. ‘Such as’ means this is only an indicative list. In the next, ‘never’ and ‘before’ are saying the same thing. If you’ve never seen it, there’s no need to say ‘before’. In the third sentence, if you’re going to return something, you’re obviously giving it back, so ‘back’ is redundant.  ‘In case’ indicates a possibility, so use ‘in case’ OR ‘may’ – in case you need it later – or Keep this money, you may need it later. Red is a colour. Duh.

    But new writers love to inject their writing with crystal clarity by providing extra words to help their slow readers. These writers will make you enter into a room, not just enter it, just as they’ll help you exit from the story instead of quickly exiting it.

Here’s a secret: there is no shortcut to writing happiness.

Read that again.

You can’t press a key and make it happen. Anyone can write, but to write well and communicate effectively, you need to put in effort, just as you would for any other skill. Read a lot and read books of quality writing. Reading even prize-winning children’s books can help you build familiarity with the language. Newspapers are not literature, so use those to get the news, not to improve your reading habits.

Write a lot, and get feedback from someone whose English is good, or at least better than yours. Get your writing edited by a professional editor and learn from the feedback and comments.

However, there is one place for weak English, even Indian English, and that is in dialogue. If your character speaks that way, you can use ‘Don’t eat my head’ in his dialogue. As long as you don’t use it yourself in the narration!

Intentions don’t make a doctor, or an editor!

Let’s say someone comes to you and says, “I love serving human beings and I am hard working. I think I will make a great family doctor for you.” Would you hire him as your family doctor? In a sane state of mind, you would not unless he is a qualified doctor and has gone through the years of training and practice needed.

Point is that certain aptitudes and a certain kind of attitude may be necessary for you to enjoy your job, but they can not be a replacement for the skill that can only be acquired by training or practice. We often have people telling us that they have studied in English medium schools, are good with English, are avid readers and hence would make good editors. It may sound right to many of us, but trust me it does not make a good editor.

Good editing is an acquired skill and you need to work on learning and enhancing it. You may be good at English in general but when you start editing, you might suddenly find yourself wondering if there should be a ‘the’ here or not. It is not good enough for you to ‘think’ that a ‘the’ should be there because it sounds right that way. You have to know exactly whether it should be there or not.

That was an example of grammar part of the things. There is more. As writers or speakers of a language we all have our own style. But as an editor you have to have the ability to identify author’s style and make sure your editing does not destroy the style. We have seen people who replaced all the casual Hindi phrases from an Indian English novel while editing. Right thing to do as far as language in concerned, but just not the right thing to do as the editor of a fiction book. The Hindi phrases were a part of the style, the narration. Sometimes the style involves elements more subtle than this. If you have not understood the techniques involved in editing, you may end up returning a manuscript worse off than what it was when it came to you!

There is also a difference in editing content in different forms. A website article is not edited in the same way as a full length fiction novel, which in turn needs a different kind of editing than a STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) book.

Just like a person who has not studied medicine and does not know what treatment is right for a particular condition would do no good to the humanity with his intention to serve as a doctor, an editor who does not have the right skills would do no good to a manuscript. In fact, in both cases they may end up doing more harm than good.

However, one difference exists between editing and medicine. Getting trained in medicine without formal education in that area is close to impossible. With editing, however, you do not need corpses to experiment upon. You can go for self-training with the help of appropriate books, Internet resources and the Wren & Martin and equivalents from your school days. Then of course, practice makes a man (and woman) perfect. So, if this is the kind of job that interests you, start your self-training and practice right away.

So what does this mean for an aspiring author looking to self publish or may be just looking for feedback? Firstly it is important for any self publishing author to be aware of all the skills that are important for creating a good book. Editing is one of the most important ones without which your content may just not be up to the mark. If you are planning on self-editing your manuscript, you may need to go for some self-training here. Secondly, even if you are hiring someone to do the job for you, it is important for you to know what is expected of the editor, be able to choose the right editor and communicate effectively with him.

Let the best writer-editor pairs bloom!

Pothi.com provides book editing and proofreading services in India.

Related Posts written earlier:

[Self Publishing Guide] Self Publishing your Book – Step 1: Finalize the Content

This post is an excerpt from our Self Publishing Guide for Indian Market. If you have not, you may want to read the following post in this series before starting on this one

You have finally finished your book and are dying to see it in print. Since you have decided to self publish, nobody prevents you from going ahead and printing copies of your book. But hang on, there are a few more tasks to be done, decisions to be taken before you can see the birth of your creation. As they say, haste makes waste.

Step 1-Finalise the content. You should not write a book and forget about revisiting it. You need to go through the manuscript in minute details and revise it if required. In the initial excitement of having completed the book, authors tend to overlook checking for mistakes in writing style.

Remember, no matter how talented a writer you are, it always helps to have another person look over the entire book. The greatest writers in the world have had their work ruthlessly edited. Editing does not mean your book has to lose its style/flavour. As a self publisher, you retain the right of final judgement on anything.

The editing options available to an independent author are

  • Professional editor.This is the costliest option. However, it will ensure that you get an unbiased professional look at your work from a third person’s perspective.
  • Editing by friend/acquaintance. You could approach a friend with good language skills to go over the manuscript and do a frank, ruthless critique.
  • Self editing. The third, option is to go over the manuscript yourself for spotting problems. This is the least you must do. Remember, errors can be spotted more easily if you review your manuscript after a gap – say, a couple of weeks.

General editing checklist. There are certain common mistakes we tend to commit in our writing.

  • Getting repetitive. Repetition – of a sentence or words or ideas – can be used as a tool to emphasise a point or an idea, but beyond a limit, it becomes counter productive.
  • Narration, flow and writing style. The book should be consistent. The storytelling should not be disjointed or abrupt. The tense and narrator’s person should be consistent. The best writers break many rules, but they know the rules like the back of their hand before that.
  • Contradictions. Care must be taken to ensure that the characters/information/incidents mentioned do not contradict each other in different parts of the manuscript.
  • Readability. You need to ensure that the sentences are lucid and readable – not too long or complex.
  • Clarity of narration. While editing, emphasis needs to be laid on checking that the narration is clear and conveys the ideas or description clearly. Check if certain portions need to be rewritten to improve clarity and narration.
  • Flow of the book. The overall flow of the book needs to be logical. Check if the organisation of the chapters is fine or if it needs to be rearranged.
  • Grammatical errors. Last, but not the least, the language needs to be grammatically correct. Sentence construction, prepositions and articles, punctuation, verbs, tenses, spellings – everything. Nothing will be a bigger turn-off for a potential reader than spotting a grammatical mistake in a book.

Related Article

Don’t rely overly on Natural Writing Skills

We know that some people are just good with words. Writing comes easily to them. While some of us have to struggle to give right expressions to their thoughts, these people with natural writing skills are able to do it without having to consciously try.

As readers, at some point of time or the other, we all have been fascinated by a piece of writing, which conveys its meaning so beautifully that we wonder why we did not write it that way. Its not that we got the idea a little late. Its just that the writer simply knew how to express it better than us!

Now, if you are one of those people who have the natural writing skills, it makes obvious sense for you to be writing a book. Your skill will be your biggest asset.

However, if you are trying to do it completely on your own, you need to be aware of a mistake many first time writers, especially those who have not been exposed to writing or publishing in a formal manner, tend to commit. Over-rating natural writing skills!

Of course, there are exceptions to everything. But for most people it is important to keep in mind that the product of one time writing is not ready for an average reader. Even with the best writing skills, here are some of the common language issues that will be there in the manuscript

  • You might have penned down ramblings too exactly. The sentences would have become too long with many clauses, which can be interpreted in different combinations. And even with the best command of grammar, you would have lost track of related subjects, objects, verbs, tense, voice and singular vs. plural.
  • If you do not think in the same language that you are writing in (can be the case with many Indians writing in English), the constructions of your thought language would have made their way into your writing, which would definitely strike as odd or even funny to the reader. Not the effect you wanted to create!
  • There would be missing or wrong punctuations, words spelled wrong which spell checker can not catch (‘there’ instead of ‘their’) or an unintentional wrong use of word which make the meaning just opposite to what you intended to say. Before you know it, the reader has put down your book with a “Never Again” feeling.

The issues we have pointed here are mostly language related. There would also be issues around consistency of plot and characters (for fiction), consistency of message and correctness of information (for non-fiction), overall narration, organization of chapters etc.

With self publishing, there is no one to really check you and it is easy to give in to the temptation of publishing your unaltered work – “natural writing”. If you are doing it more for fun and self-satisfaction, then it may be fine that way. But if you want others to read it, the language issues we have pointed out should be the least you must take care of.

What this means is that the manuscript must be re-read several times by you and you should not be shy of editing and rewriting ruthlessly if need be. In an ideal scenario, after you are done from your side you should also take the book through a professional editor. If professional editor is not affordable, then find a friend/relative who is good with language and will give honest feedback about writing and language. Good news with self publishing is that you still retain the final control on your manuscript. If you don’t want to accept changes suggested by the editor you are free to do so. But it is important to take an informed decision. Not knowing what could be wrong will not do justice to your book.

All of this does not mean that you have produce books which are written like school essays in such a grammatically and politically correct language that no one ever talks in. Of course not! Refining and rewriting the manuscript does not mean that it has to lose your style. If your character are not supposed to speak correct language, then they should not. If certain portions are there to convey ramblings, then they should be written like ramblings. The idea, rather, is that none of this should happen in an unintended fashion. In general, a qualified editor would understand the difference between what comes due to writing style and what comes due to wrong way of writing it. In cases where she does not, you retain the ultimate power anyway.

So, pick up the manuscript you did not bother to read since you have finished it and get started on it!

P. S. How much editing do you think the current piece has gone through? Can it do with more? Suggest through comments the parts/sentences you would rewrite. Not abstract suggestions. Give the actual rewritten text. Focus on how language could be made better, more readable etc. apart from the grammatical errors.