Saturday, August 18, 2012

Proofreading Your Manuscript

Your book draft is done. You lovingly finger the warm pages you just printed. You enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. Your book is almost ready.

Almost. But it’s too early to celebrate. You’ve got proofreading to do.

If you’re an English major (like me) or have a strong command of the English language, you may not need to hire a professional editor for your book. However, if you choose the DIY (Do It Yourself) editing option, here are a couple tips I’d like to share from personal experience.

Ask someone else to read your manuscript.

I’m not downplaying your skills, but even if you’re the best editor or proofreader out there, you still want a second set of eyes.

Why? A couple reasons. First, you as the author are so close to your book that you may have a hard time seeing its flaws. (It’s natural. You’ve just poured months of your life into this project; you’re going to be a bit protective.) You want an objective, unbiased opinion. Don’t bristle at criticism. Welcome it with open arms.

Another reason for a third party perspective is that we can become so close to our stories that we tend to read sentences the way they should be – not the way they are.

Here’s an example: “I cracked open the door and found you package on the step.” (Did your mind naturally fill in the word “your” instead of reading “you” as mistyped?)

Another: “You’ll have plenty of time think of this later.” (Did you catch that the word “to” is missing?)

There’s another helpful exercise to spot these kinds of flaws, which brings me to my second tip.

Read your manuscript out loud.

You may have read your story a dozen times, but “hearing” it helps awkward sentence structure and missed or misplaced words stand out.

Also, it helps you identify overused phrases and words. Do you say “rolled her eyes” on every other page? Do you use the adverbs “really” and “very” too often? I recommend making a list of your “trouble words” and keeping an eye out for them.

Spell check. Spell check.

It’s obvious, but sometimes, we overlook the obvious. Spell check is your friend. You can’t rely on spell check alone, but it provides one additional help for identifying grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. (Granted, sometimes you have to ignore it, because it can’t discern the difference between an intentional fragment for expression and an actual mistake.)  

If you have the luxury of time, I suggest setting your manuscript aside for a couple weeks and then returning to it with fresh eyes. For those of us who have deadlines or are trying to make sure our books are ready for Christmas, try the tips above.

Happy proofreading.   

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Olympic Dreams

I don’t watch much TV, because frankly, I don’t have time for it. But I make an exception for the Olympics. I’ve stayed up late and watched more TV since the opening ceremony than I probably have all year.

Why? There’s something about sensationally disciplined, hard-core, dream-driven people (egotists excepted) that makes me want to stand up and cheer.

We all have dreams. Maybe we can’t all be Olympians… or maybe we just think we can’t. It depends on your perspective and what you’re willing to do to reach your goals and dreams.
Remember when you were in school. Think back to an academic course or athletic requirement where you struggled. Did you ever say, “It’s just too hard. I can’t do that”?
I had a moment like that in college. I had managed to CLEP out of first year Spanish and jump right into the intermediate level. In my first class, the professor spoke almost entirely in Spanish. I sat at my desk thinking to myself, “What have I gotten myself into? I can’t do this.”
I met up with my professor in the cafeteria and asked him candidly if I could succeed in the class without having gone through the elementary courses.
“You can if you want to,” he said. “You’re going to have to work extra hard, but you can do it.”
And I did. I even got an A. But it wasn’t easy.
Easy isn’t a word that belongs in an Olympian’s dictionary. Pain. Disappointment. Sacrifice. Tears. Those words all belong in their books. And sometimes, so does gold.
But you can’t get to gold without all the other excruciating elements first.
That makes me wonder: What are my dreams? What I am willing to sacrifice to make them happen? As a writer, I’ve sometimes wondered if I can reach my goals or if there’s any point in trying. Getting published is an accomplishment, but will I ever be successful as a writer? Will my writing ever make a difference in someone’s life?
I won’t know if I don’t try, if I don’t fail, if I don’t make mistakes.
So maybe I’m too tall to be a gymnast and too poor a swimmer to qualify in anything but the doggy paddle (which has yet to be recognized as a swimming stroke in the Olympics).
But I can dream. I can dream big … as a writer, as a child of God designed to live a purposeful life.  And so can you.
The next summer games will be held in Rio in 2016. If you’re an athlete, you start training today – no, yesterday. Ok, so you’re not an athlete. You fill in the blanks, and figure out what your goals are and what you have to do to reach them.
Where do you want to be in four years?