Clear Writing – No. 5
PROOFING! Proofing. proofing?
One of the hardest professions in the world is to become a successful writer. The lingering difficulties we fight against are criticism, proofreading, and our self-esteem, which can be our greatest nemesis.
Let me address each issue one at a time.
First, let me say to each of you that we often forget how to make failures work for us. Each time someone offers you good advice, and let me emphasize good advice, we get so caught up in our failures that instead of using the opportunity this good advice affords, we have a pity party.
Please don’t hear me say you shouldn’t be disappointed or you should suppress healthy emotional reactions. But to stay in a state of pity because things didn’t go right the first time robs you of victories just over the horizon.
Criticism, however, has to be good criticism. Too often, I find editors, especially those we pay hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars, don’t always spell it out for us. They leave too much to the imagination. But don’t think for a minute you and I are off the hook because of this. Our writings are our responsibility, no matter what.
Keep things in perspective. The purpose of criticism is to get your writing from Point A to Point B. Without it, you are planted at the ground level forever. Your adherence to criticism can quickly place you in the pool with the big guys. So, the next time you are critiqued, have a tantrum for an hour or two then get back to work. The key to criticism is determining if it is valid. If so, adhere to it and don’t forget to implement appropriate changes. If you don’t know how to make the appropriate changes, simply ask.
Proofreading, it seems, is thought of as being the easiest of the three difficulties, but the most flawed and overlooked. After you’ve submitted a manuscript, how many times have you gone through it a day later and found a host of mistakes. All of us have committed or will commit this infraction at some point. IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD! However, to commit this infraction with a great deal of consistency is considered lazy. Your manuscript is the only piece of material which represents who you as a writer. The editors, literary agents, and publishers have no other way to evaluate your capabilities other than by your manuscript. Are you really willing to submit a manuscript you haven’t spent twice as much time proofing as you did writing it?
I must interject an experience I had several weeks ago. Someone on Facebook solicited a beta reader for her novel. With that solicitation was a beautiful book cover she planned to use once the book was published. It was an intriguing cover, the type of cover that pulled you into a mystery. Without a synopsis, I gave in to the pull and volunteered. It is my understanding, though I could be totally wrong here, that beta readers are individuals willing to read a book from cover to cover and provide a synopsis of their overall opinion of the book. I couldn’t get through thirteen paragraphs of the novel. Why? Because it was littered with mistakes. Typos. Misplaced dialogue tags. Insufficient paragraph breaks. Weak structure. Slow pacing. Repetitive words (more than can be considered as mere mistakes). Inconsistencies–the girl’s eyes are green, only to find out two paragraphs later that her eyes are blue without giving a valid reason for the change.
Proofreading is more in depth than looking for typos. It’s looking for consistency. Unless a character has dyed her hair, you’ll need to show us why her hair is brown in one scene and blond in another. If your character is stepping off a plane in Morocco, how is it that he’s sitting at a table having dinner in Chicago. How did he get there? More importantly, how did you get him there?
We also tend to neglect correcting overused phrases. All of us have our favorite phrases and words we like to use. It’s a daunting task to develop the patience to become meticulous about correcting mistakes. The problem is, most of us don’t really look at overused words as a mistake. Take it from me, it is. You and I are asking people to spend anywhere from $2.99 to $22.99 for our books. Would you spend $19.99 for a book only to read an author’s repetitive phraseology? I wouldn’t. So, we shouldn’t expect others to read it either. It is worth every bit of your time to go painstakingly through your novel and find the repeats; whether the repeats are of events or of wording.
Here’s a rule of thumb: many of our overused words can be found in the first chapter. Challenge yourself to find those same words throughout the entire novel. Do a word search. Highlight them. After you finish your first draft, go back to those highlighted words and replace them with appropriate substitutes. Use a Thesaurus with great care. It’s a fine reference tool, but if not used correctly, it can cause you a great deal of embarrassment.
Each of us has to develop good proofreading skills. We don’t wake up one day with this ability sharp and ready to go. This skill must be practiced over and over again until we develop keen eyes for it.
With that in mind, I’ve taken sentences from a short story I wrote several weeks ago and used them as examples. I hope these examples will help you better proof your work. Many of you might find better ways to reword these sentences. That’s great. Because you have mentally participated in this exercise is indeed the whole point.
Example 1: She took her time and examined each dark portal as best she could until she spotted a mysterious man going in and out a door on the first floor.
Correction: She took her time and with care examined each dark portal until she spotted a mysterious man going in and out a door on the first floor.
After I thought this sentence through, I realized “with care” means the same thing as “She took her time.” How redundant. So I changed it to read:
Correction: She took her time and examined each dark portal until she spotted a mysterious man going in and out a door on the first floor.
OR you can say: “She examined each dark portal until she spotted a mysterious man going in and out a door on the first floor.”
Notice how the word count decreased in this sentence. When you are making feverish attempts to pare down your wording, these are the things you look for in your writing. ALSO notice I left out “in and out of a door.” OF isn’t necessary, so I purposely left it out. It’s a matter of style. Using OF will depend on your style of writing. However, there’s nothing wrong with omitting it.
Example 2: We could use you in a supervisory role.
Correction: We need you in a supervisory role.
Example 3: Earlier, he couldn’t get warm; now he felt hot.
Correction: Earlier, he was cold; now he felt hot.
Correction: To “show” action, edit the sentence this way — Earlier, he shivered and his teeth chattered; now he couldn’t get his clothes off fast enough. <==Showing this action is what agents look for in our writing. They don’t want you to “tell” them what’s going on, they want you to “show” them.
Example 4: Katherine exhaled slow and easy as she rested against the seat. When she looked at him again, he had joy in his eyes.
Correction: Not sure I would change the first sentence. There’s a lot there: feeling, action, relief. That one sentence creates a vivid scene.
Self-esteem is another issue plaguing many writers. Low self-esteem can cast you into a state of depression. All writers hit the wall at some point in their career. I describe self-esteem issues with one word: CHOICE. We either choose to stay in the ring and FIGHT! or we throw in the towel.
I have self-esteem crashes at least twice a day. Some are worse than others. I’m constantly picking myself up off the floor. Why? Glad you asked. I keep getting up because I’m passionate about writing. My passion drives me. My passion keeps me up at night . . . and I do mean “all” night. My passion pisses me off! Literally. Sometimes I get so mad I want to throw things. I remember one time I unplugged my computer and gathered my reference books with the intent to throw them in the trash.
But here’s the thing: After a pep talk from my husband (I just love this guy), I eventually returned to my writing. Why? There are three things I LOVE in this life. My God. My family. And writing. I have waited too long to be in this position to let go now. I have raised my children, pampered my husband (he’s such a big baby), and I serve God no matter what state I’m in. Some people work an eight-hour job. Others work half a day and make millions. The elite have inherited their monies and don’t have to do anything but sit around and whine about having nothing to do. YOU AND I, well, we write. We are no more or less important than anyone else. If we don’t write, we’d do something else. Trust me, we’d be miserable doing something else, but we’d be doing something else just the same.
So, give yourself twenty-four hours to kick, scream, threaten to throw your computer out the window, throw copies of Hamlet, Catcher in the Rye and any other favorite novel across the room. Then after you’ve worn yourself out, take a shower, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and get back to work.
And choose to diligently become a wordsmith. Each and every time you hear a new word, immediately look it up in the dictionary, or jot it down and look it up later. Consider the context in which the sentence is used. This is important. The one thing you don’t want to do is use a word you’ve heard on CNN pertaining to a legal matter and place it in a romantic scene of your novel. Using new words in the proper context is extremely important.
In conclusion, my strongest advice is to buy a copy of Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. If you will be diligent to read it word-for-word and implement his advice, this will end up being the best investment you’ve ever made. On Amazon.com, the book cost about $12.40. I also recommend you listen to K.M. Weiland’s weekly podcasts. Here is the website to her archives, divided by year: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/podcast-episodes-archive/. Her writing tips are invaluable. I devote Saturday mornings to listening to whichever subject matter that I struggle with the most.
Happy Writing! . . . and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!!!
Go out on a limb and share with us the mistakes you’ve made with your manuscript. Also, share tips that you think we can all benefit from.
Updated this post: May 5, 2018
Clear Writing – No. 4
Redundant Word Search
(these are a few examples; there may be others you will need to look for)
Correct these words appropriately.
2-wheel bicycle 6 a.m. in the morning nodded his head
blistering hot crept slowly exact same
drop down eased slowly long-necked giraffe
rise up rose to her feet sat down
shrugged his shoulders stomped heavily terribly bad
the reason why tiptoed quietly red in color
ran quickly long-lasting durability today’s soup for today
Read each phrase listed above and ask if these words are a repeat of their meaning. For example: blistering hot. Could you not simply say “blistering day” and leave out “hot?” Or let’s look at: rose to her feet. As oppose to what? “rose to (what?).” By definition doesn’t crept mean to move slowly. So why must we say “crept slowly?”
It becomes crucial to delete redundant words from your manuscript when and if you need to reduce the size of your novel. I’m currently working on a family saga that is too long and this is the main problem I’m running into. However, the more I perform the onerous task of spotting and deleting redundant words, the better my writing becomes and the better I get at spotting these pesky words. Sometimes putting these redundant words together sounds good, may even sound like a cliché (and most are), but they are grammatically incorrect in a manuscript.
One of the last tasks you must perform after completing your manuscript is to look for redundant words and any to be verbs and minimize them. Both redundant words and to be verbs can drag your story. I ran across an article the other day where a writer said that he allows only one to be verb in each paragraph. I have adopted this rule and I am implementing it in my writing. I avoid them altogether whenever possible.
One of the other things I do after I’ve declared my manuscript is complete is to search for repetitive words. I restructure or delete these sentences wherever possible.
Things to Remember
When editing your work, remember to include the five senses so that the reader can hear, touch, smell, see, and taste what you want them to experience. This helps the readers participate with the characters in the event. So ask yourself the following questions while you are editing your manuscript:
1. Where is the scene taking place? Where are they? Have you described the surroundings?
2. Who is speaking? Is it clear who is speaking?
3. When is the scene/event taking place? Is it sunny? Dark? Cloudy?
4. What is the purpose of the scene? Is the scene vital to the story? Can the scene be deleted?
5. How is this possible? Always question if your scene, dialogue, events are possible/normal.
April Devotional – THE LOVE OF CHRIST – For Easter
I’m sitting here in my office chair pausing until I can come up with a tighter plot to my next short story when I remember I haven’t written my April Devotional. The devotional reminds me that Easter is only days away. That brings to my remembrance the Lord’s Resurrection.
I can’t help but think of the visual aid Mel Gibson gave us when he produced The Passion of the Christ. For so many years, it never dawned on me the severity of Christ’s suffering until I had this visual aid. I read scripture the other day and I did some research and found out that the whips they beat Jesus with had metal in it. Sometimes sheep bones and glass was also embedded in these whips so that as you pulled the whip off the person’s body it would rip the flesh.
Can you imagine the loss of blood? Can you imagine the misery? His painful cries?
You can get so engrossed in Christ’s misery that you miss the main focus.
Every single thing we go through in life Christ went through it, bore it all then had the love and kindness to also leave us hope for a future . . . a spiritual future. Everlasting Life.
Just what could I mean by that?
Jesus reduced himself to a man, leaving a place of peace and rest, and came down to this pitiful place called “earth” to live with a bunch of wicked and sinful, dull-hearing individuals. But Christ went far beyond that. He lived as we lived. He withstood the abuse, trappings, and accusations of the Pharisees and Saducees, and even the people’s chants to kill him.
Imagine you and your best friend of 30 years end your relationship in a horrible fight. That’s what Christ endured when he stood before the Jews late one night listening to one allegation after another. He’s tired. Hungry. Defenseless. Alone. And he knows he did nothing wrong. His disciples, his best friends, his only friends, desert him. All the people in the region who were healed are nowhere to be found. Where did everyone go?
Ever felt that way?
I can’t help but interject and jar your memory about the many men who have been hauled off to prison, sometimes serving over 20 years in these cages, for crimes they didn’t commit. And no one believed them. Their parents’, families’, and friends’ voices can’t be heard over screaming false witnesses, neighbors, and media outlets who are chanting “He did it!” If and when these men are released, what a mountainous task it is for them to attempt to make a living, not to mention the burden of trying to integrate themselves back into society.
Back to our Lord . . .
I look at the disciples and see all too clearly how their weaknesses mimic my own. I won’t lie, I might have easily fallen asleep too if I had been in the garden. My faith would have been much too weak to drive out demons. In no way my belief would raise anyone from the dead.
Not only did Jesus reduce himself from a heavenly perfect being to become a lowly man like us and subject himself to such cruel treatment, he also had the heart and love to demonstrate what comes after. He endured all that pain just to prove to us that (1) you and I can’t go through a thing on this earth that he himself did not endure; and (2) that after the pain and suffering for his sake is over then comes the good stuff—heaven, peace, happiness.
I can’t resist the temptation to share one of my favorite sayings I came up with a few years back: “God won’t let you fall any farther than he can reach.” Of course, that’s providing that your heart is focused on God, in spite of your shortcomings.
Jesus healed so many different diseases and human infirmities that if each account were written down there wouldn’t be enough books to contain them.
And here you and I sit with all this knowledge under our belts and we still can’t believe enough or have enough faith. We toss a prayer at God like an insurance policy, or stumble through a prayer when someone we love is on their deathbed, failing miserably with our stammered words because we’ve had little practice with praying. Some men are too manly to become weak enough to yield to the King and ask for help. But isn’t that what it took for Jesus to endure his sacrifice? And is that not what you and I are called to do?
Do you not understand that Jesus left us a blueprint as to how to live our lives?
See, Jesus has become a mythical character we groan over during the holidays because we promised momma or daddy we’d go to church next year.
I pose a hard question that only you and I, and any individual with an ounce of concern about his soul, would have to answer. If Jesus Christ is who he says he is, and you believe he is, then what if he had treated you like you’re treating him?
Let me take that down a notch. What if you saw that friend you lost, that one you were friends with for over 30 years, and you decided to treat him as he did you? Or what if she treated you as you treated her?
Where does the madness end?
I don’t care what they threw at Jesus, he stood firm. And let’s not forget the human side of our Savior. Let’s not make light of it. Even he, while in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweat blood during his plea with God to remove the bitter cup from him. That was his way of asking God: “Must I do this? Is there not another way?” He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to suffer.
But Jesus didn’t come to please himself. He came at the pleasure and will of our God. And he fulfilled his purpose. Even to the point of death!
Tell me something—what does this Easter mean to you? Is it just another holiday? Another time of year to give you a three-day weekend, buy too much candy, and eat too much food? Will you sit still and remember the sacrifice that was paid for your life?
Jesus wants us to pause and reflect on his love. He loved you and me through the agony of pain and death.
Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Don’t put Jesus off another year or show up at church or at holiday gatherings to pacify one of your relatives. Think about the gifts he gives you day after day . . .
Love and Everlasting Life.
Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Poet, Author
NOTE: To help you remember how powerful our God is, read about the many miracles Jesus Christ performed while he was with us. Let’s not forget how his power still works in our lives today. Listed below are the many miracles Jesus performed along with the scriptures associated with those miracles.
MIRACLES OF JESUS
Jesus turns water into wine. (John 2:1-11)
Healing of royal official’s son. (John 4:46-54)
Healing a demonic possessed man at Capernaum. (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:33-37)
Healing Peter’s mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:-14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39)
Healing of many during the evening hours. (Matt 8:16, Mark 1:32, Luke 4:40)
Catching of large number of fish. (Luke 5:3-10)
Healing the leper. (Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-15)
Healing of a centurion’s servant. (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10)
Healing of a paralyzed man. (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:18-26)
Healing of a withered hand. (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-10)
Raising a widow’s son. (Luke 7:11-17)
Calming the storm. (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25)
Healing the Gerasene man possessed by demons. (Matthew 8:28-32, Mark 5:1-13, Luke 8:26-33)
Healing woman with issue of blood. (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48)
Raising Jarius’ daughter. (Matthew 9:18-19, 23-25; Mark 5:22-24, 35-43; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56)
Healing two blind men. (Matthew 9:27-31)
Healing a mute man possessed by a demon. (Matthew 9:32-33)
Healing a man who was crippled for 38 years. (John 5:1-17)
The feeding of 5,000 plus women and children. (Matthew 14:16-21, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:5-14)
Jesus walks on the water. (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52, John 6:16-21)
Healing of many in Gennesaret. (Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:53-56)
Healing a girl possessed by a demon. (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)
Healing of a man with a speech impediment. (Mark 7:31-37)
Healing of 4,000 plus women and children. (Matthew 15:29-39, Mark 8:1-10)
Healing a blind man. (Mark 8:22-26)
Healing a man born blind. (John 9:1-41)
Healing a demon possessed boy. (Matthew 17:14-20, Mark 9:17-29, Luke 9:37-43)
Catching a fish with coin in its mouth. (Matthew 17:24-27)
Healing a blind and mute man who demon possessed. (Matthew 12:22-23, Luke 11:14)
Healing a woman with an 18-year infirmity (who probably couldn’t stand). (Luke 13:10-13)
Healing a man with dropsy. (Luke 14:1-6)
Healing of 10 lepers. (Luke 17:11-19)
Raising of Lazarus. (John 11:1-44)
Healing Bartimaeus’ blindness. (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43)
The curse of the fig tree. (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)
Restoring a severed ear at Gethsamene. (Luke 22:45-54)
The resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15, Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20)
Catching 153 fish. (John 21:4-11)
Jesus’ ascension. (Acts 1:1-11)
Miracles of Jesus in Chronological Order, http://www.aboutbibleprophecy.com/miracles.htm
GRANT ME PEACE
Trouble came today and I tried to stay
Focused on the Word, I even tried to pray
But nothing worked successfully and I’m in desperate need
Rescue me, take hold of me, give me what I seek.
I focused to the left, I scurried to the right
I sit a little while, but I can’t overcome this fight
I rock myself to sleep, hoping for relief
But I’m distressed, too much unrest, trouble’s in my reach.
With yesterday gone and its trouble lingering on
I begin to bear the day and think the worse is gone
But footsteps creep behind me, my feet won’t let me run
Trouble tromps again, tenfold, more than ever before.
Darkness is all I see, my shadow’s indistinct
How do I create a tighter link
When I cannot read, I cannot write, I can’t begin to think
I dig down deep, I raise my hands, but farther down I sink.
Rescue me, take hold of me, give in to my plea
Grant me peace of mind, overshadow what is weak
Sooth me with your song and lull me ‘til I sleep
Grant me peace, oooh God have mercy, hurry rescue me.
by Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Poet, Author
April 16, 2014
You have permission to use this poem ONLY if my name is accredited
and it is used in godly service to others. Thank you! God Bless!!!