Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dig a Hole for Yourself

This is a subject that just will not go away! I toss a Frisbee way across the yard, and it just comes back. I bury the bone out in the back yard, far away from the house, and when I least expect to see it again, it's back here dirtying up the nice clean floor of my blog! Go on. Try to bury your nose into your book as if the teacher cannot see you hiding. Yes, I am calling on you. Stand up straight and name the subject of today's post. What bone do I have to pick until I think it's as clean as a silent dog whistle? If you answered proofreading, give that author a prize!

I'm not asking any of you to pay a professional to proofread your book. I'm not even asking any of you to pay me half the going rate to do it for you, as I have offered elsewhere at PODBRAM. What I am asking you to do costs very little except for some of your time. If you own only one computer, and you wish to purchase a second one with which to simplify the process, go ahead. You could easily waste $500 in many less practical ways. I am asking only that you either utilize a second computer or print out your manuscript from a Word document. What you absolutely must do is to read through the manuscript aloud with a partner who is reading along with you silently from a second copy that is exactly the same as the version on your computer. The second person can do all the enunciating or ya'll can take turns. I do not care, and your readers certainly do not care, but I am certain that they are as tired of stumbling over your aggravating typos as I am.

Spelling and Grammar Checks cannot identify the types of errors I am referring to here, simply because most of the words that are blundering their way into your books are genuine, real words. Grammar Check will underline every passive sentence you write, but it doesn't know the difference between there and their or its and it's. It can't stand the word blog, even though we know that in our current virtual culture, you can't swing a big bone without hitting one.

Janet Elaine Smith has tried to tell you people this same thing numerous times. Ya'll like her, don't you? If you don't listen to me because I dunk your books in the tank or open them widely to see the fun parts, then at least listen to Janet. She has told you the same thing I have: read your manuscript aloud! Read it to another person reading it silently from a second copy. Make every little necessary change as you go in the computer copy, and then shred the printed copy full of mistakes if you want. When you read aloud, you are more likely to pronounce every word without unconsciously skipping over common words. The second copy allows the second reader to capture every boo-boo you make, even if you have missed it. There are only two things you have to remember. Read it aloud and read it with a partner reading a second copy.

I have just completed the reading of a very well composed book in which the dialog and storyline flow like a river, but guess what? I have begun reading another book that is stunning in the accuracy of its capture of a real-life tragedy. Guess what again? Although I have only read the first few chapters of the second book, it seems to be positively rushing toward five stars, if only I could quit stumbling over the typos!

This is so easy, people! It's not brain salad surgery! It's not even expensive. If you want to be a real writer, then write like one. Do you think this is The Fifties, when a polite guy in a uniform pranced out to your car to fill the gas tank? Do you think publishers are going to pay someone to do the grunt work for you because you are a celebrity? Those days are long gone, kids. Go ahead. Dig a hole for yourself and get in it. While you're closely guarding your bone, real readers will be out looking for real books to read.

Photo courtesy Al Past


JanetElaineSmith said...

Thank you so much for the kind comments about my take on editing. There is nothing that can ruin a good book faster than a poor job of paying attention to the "small stuff." Yes, you do need to sweat the small stuff. You can make a decent book into a great book just by being careful. And if you don't know the basic rules of grammar, a good refresher course (either at a local or community college or online) is definitely in order.

William said...

Excellent point. I teach writing at a local community college and tell students to always read their essays out loud. I tell them their ear will often hear things that their eye did not see.

Bill Lewis