Science for the Public and more…

Posts tagged ‘rules’

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

Mistake #1: Writers don’t place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., “He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum.” Because both “He took the 405 freeway to work” and “he exited at the Getty Museum” are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, “and.” This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don’t make it. It’s a very easy punctuation rule to remember.

Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let’s take the above example, and change it just a little: “He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum.” I took the second “he” out. That makes the clause after “and” a dependent clause, because “exited at the Getty Museum” cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the “and.”

Of course, there are other places you need—and don’t need—commas, but this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.

Mistake #3: Writers don’t know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer’s spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that “unphased” isn’t even a word. She meant “unfazed.” To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was “waving.” And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.

Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!

Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you’re spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it (“ewe” should be “you”; “you’re” should be “your”; “fined” should be “find”; “awl” should be “all”; “yore” should be “your”; “miss” and “steaks” should be “mistakes”: and finally, “your” should be “you’re”). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.

Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: “I saw a deer driving to work today.” Uh, no—you didn’t, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, “I saw a deer while driving to work today,” or, “While driving to work today, I saw a deer.” Please, don’t put the deer in the driver’s seat!

Here’s another example: “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments.” Warm what in the microwave? You’ve got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments.”

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we’d probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can’t count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

Basic Rules for Writers

Are there simple basic rules for all writers? I’ve been asked that question many times. There are books written to help writers write. Some are very good. The Chicago Manual of Style and A Handbook for Scholars are invaluable resources. Others are grammar books, which are useful but don’t get to the “nitty-gritty” of what is really required of a writer who wants to make a living writing. These rules are made by writers for writers and are meant to be encouraging as well as instructive.
Rule No. 1 Determination
Determination is the quality of being determined to do or achieve something; resoluteness. You must first make a decision to write. This sounds simple enough. Most writers have made that decision. But, there is more to it than just deciding to write. What to write and how are next. The decision of what to write is based partially on your knowledge. Most writers who are knowledgeable about fishing will be unwilling to tackle an article about the development of cancer tumors. Determination must be tempered by knowledge. The often repeated writer’s adage, “write what you know,” is applicable here.
Resoluteness, however, is a useful word when discussing determination. To make your resolve tangible, set goals. These points will assist you in your goal-setting exercise:
• Be specific about what you want to achieve. Instead of saying ‘I want to finish an article by Fall’ state ‘my article: Fishing in the Arctic will be completed by October 1, including all editing and photography’.
• Break this goal into smaller chunks…’baby steps’ of say 500 words per day. Be sure to schedule work with photographs concurrently.
Not taking this step leaves you wide open to missing your deadline. Giving yourself an achievable goal means you are more likely to reach it. The results must be measurable, otherwise how do you know you’ve achieved what you set out to do?
• Is the goal attainable? Don’t set your sights too high. Always work within your own abilities, otherwise you will become disheartened. Keeping ahead of your goal allows for all those ‘life’ situations that you may, and probably will, encounter.
• Always give yourself an end date. This gives you a specific time-frame in which to work.
If you are resolved to write a quality piece, which most writers are, you have observed the first rule for writing. Your written goals will provide you with a ‘roadmap’ for the next rule.
Rule No. 2 Discipline
The second rule is harder than you think. Writing requires discipline. Most writers’ advisors say “write something everyday.” It doesn’t have to be submission quality. Writing a letter to your son or daughter away at college, writing in a blog or writing ideas for future stories all count for this task. The main idea here is to cultivate a regimen for daily work. Make time to write. This can be difficult if you have a full time job that is not writing related. If evenings and weekends are the only available time, other family commitments must be taken into account. Look to writers’ blogs to exchange ideas as to how other writers have accomplished this seemingly insurmountable feat.
Writer’s block is a well known malady for writers. If you just can’t get to the next paragraph or sentence. Take a break, if that doesn’t help, listen to your favorite music or change writing venues. Try a coffee shop or a library. Having resources close at hand might help, too.
Rule No. 3 Focus
A writer must focus. If you jump from one topic of interest to another several times when writing a story, the outcome will appear jumbled and without direction. The same is true if you attempt to write while personal issues are distracting you. No writer can do his/her piece justice when struggling with unrelated issues.
Here are three questions to answer to help you focus:
1. Who is the intended audience/reader of my piece?
2. What is the single most important point of my piece?
3. If the reader thought about my piece one week after reading it, what would their dominant impression/recollection would be?
Summary
After deciding to write, you must decide what to write; then, set a writing schedule for yourself. Make sure that your goals are attainable. Writing takes discipline. You should write something every day. If you have a chosen topic and a deadline goal, work toward that goal. If there are days when you can’t work on your piece, write something anyway. When setting out to write, be sure you can focus on the job. Don’t let yourself be distracted by outside events or demands. Scheduling and adhering to that schedule will help you to produce a piece within the designated timeframe. Determination, discipline and focus will give you tools to produce a quality piece.

Tag Cloud