Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nobody's Perfect


Grammar's a pretty picky subject, and I'm sure some of my Monday posts make me seem condescending. Believe it or not, I'm softer hearted than I seem. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt (sometimes to a fault) and I try very hard not to be harsh, especially when it comes to not-yet-published works.

A work in progress is exactly that, a work in progress, and none of us are perfect.

I've critiqued single subs for countless writers, and I've line-by-lined entire novels for a handful of folks. One thing I've learned from the longer-term relationships is that every writer has at least one grammar weak spot—myself included!


And that's perfectly normal. 

The goal shouldn't be perfection. If you strive for that, you'll never succeed. Focus instead on improving what you can, and then trust your critters and editors to help you with the rest.

A former CP of mine frequently mixed up the words then and than. I marked it repeatedly. When that didn't work, I gave him a link to a page that explained the difference and suggested he do a document search for the two words, so he could examine each usage and make sure it was correct. That, too, was ignored. 

I eventually grew tired of correcting the same thing over and over when it was something he could fix himself. I didn't look down on him for the then/than grammar weakness, but he was breaking a critter code of conduct: Don't keep sending the same mistakes in your work if you have the means to correct them. That's critter abuse.

(In case you're wondering, that's not the reason we parted ways. Gimme a little credit here. :P)

Another CP was a chronic comma splice committer, especially when writing dialogue. She improved over time as she processed more and more of my crits, but she still wrote the occasional splice. I had boundless patience with CP#2, though. Want to know why? 

Not only was she trying to improve (and she was improving), she had no way to catch and correct the error. If she'd done a document search for commas, her word processor would've exploded! 

A comma splice is not something one can reasonably search and correct. You just have to learn the grammar rule and apply it to your writing. 

So what's a writer to do? 

Well, first you must acknowledge your weaknesses and make note of them. 

If you are prone to certain usage errors, make a list and search your WIPs for the words. Unless you're writing a book about heroin trafficking or pharmaceuticals, doing a document search for the word 'drug' so you can change any past tense verb uses of it to 'dragged' won't take a decade to complete. 

If you know you tend to punctuate action beats like dialogue tags, then be mindful of that when you do your editing passes. You might not catch every single one, but I bet you'll catch the majority.

Most of all, listen to that little voice inside. If something is giving you pause, look it up. 

I'm currently making a list of things to search for in my work. 
(Yes, drug/dragged is one of them. :P)

What writing errors do you struggle with?
What tricks have you discovered to make finding them and correcting them easier?


22 comments:

  1. I have a couple mistakes I make on a regular basis and I do try to catch them. I think sometimes those things become habit though. My last manuscript came back with corrections of things I know not to do, but I still did them anyway. I am trying!

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    1. Oh, I hear ya! I have several word combos (past / passed, for example) that give me fits. When presented with the two, I know the difference. But, for some reason, when I'm typing at top speed, I often type the wrong one.

      And your comment brings up a good point. Although writers should proof read and edit to the best of their ability, they're NEVER going to catch every error. It's impossible to thoroughly proof you're own work. You know the prose, and your eyes skim right over stuff.

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  2. Oh I'm guilty, of, too, many, commas and numerous other errors. Lawd love my editors!

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  3. Replies
    1. That's okay. Everybody's *something*. The goal is to learn from your crits / edits and try to improve. ;)

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  4. Hyphens. I use them when I shouldn't. And don't use them when I should. I think I didn't use any at all, my copyeditor/proofer would have much less work because the ones I didn't need wouldn't be there for her to take out.

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    1. I can fix that! LOL Just download the PDF from Monday's post. :D

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  5. Yarp, it's so easy to make mistakes. I used to dangle my modifiers a lot, and still find the occasional one here and there.

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  6. I have plenty of grammar weaknesses, like awkward commas and word mix-ups. I try to improve, but it often doesn't occur to me that it's a problem unless someone points it out. It's kind of a mental blind spot. Your than/then friend might have the same thing.

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    1. True. But these weren't random, scarce mistakes or occasional typos. These were frequently used words he got wrong nearly every time, and it was something he could reasonably search and correct.

      Had he taken even one manuscript and gone through, checking each one and comparing them to the page that showed correct use, it would have been a good learning experience for him, and I'd lay money he would have made less then/than mistakes in the future. At the very least, he would've reduced the number of mistakes in subsequent chapters for me to correct.

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  7. Hi, Melissa,

    How are you? For some reason I keep missing your posts. Hmmm. Not good. But I do think of you often. I really like your grammar posts. I have had horror stories in the beginning of my writing. My first CP would no even READ my ms because there were SOOOOOO many errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Not to mention the tense changes within a sentence. EEEK!

    BUT, thankfully I met others much more patient and I absolutely improved. It took a while and a LOT OF HARD WORK! Now I help others because I know what it was like to be in their place.

    But I agree with you, a writer needs to improve. CP'S can't keep correcting the same thing over and over again.

    My worst problem is commas. I tend to use them more than I should. Reading and writing certainly helps. Practice does make perfect.

    I have a new reveal up today if you get a chance to drop by. I know how much you like them. AND, thank you for that.

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    1. No worries! I've been hit or miss with my blog rounds lately, too.

      You're right. We need to be patient with new writers. And I am. I just appreciate it when CPs make the effort to improve.

      And that's one of the many things that's so awesome about this community. Because we help each other, a talented person can become a novelist even if grammar is not one of their strengths. There's SO much more that goes into writing a good story.

      Visit? You bet! Wouldn't miss it! :)
      On my way over...

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  8. I *hate* "learnt" and "learned" and *still* can't figure it out :)

    Maybe the subject of a future Monday post :)

    (please!! :)

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    1. I'll do it right now. :)

      Learned and learnt are both simple past tense forms of the verb learn. They are both correct. Learnt is just more common in British English and learned is more common in American English.

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  9. Yes, it's always easy to make mistakes. While editing I do strive for perfection. Which I of course don't achieve!

    Nas

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  10. PS... did I tell you I learnt something today.

    No?

    Well, I did.

    I learned something today, so thank you :)

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  11. Whenever I use "that", I hear Cassie yelling in my head :) I have a million I watch out for and probably a million I don't notice. Grammar is tough!

    Thanks for all your mini lessons! Keep it up :) I love it!

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  12. Oh man. You should meet my CP. She's brutal. ;)

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  13. My issues seem to change over time which I guess is a good thing--maybe I'm fixing one thing and then moving onto another error. Or it's like Whack-a-Mole where I vanquish one error and 3 more pop up behind it! LOL. Good critters are hard to find! They should not be abused. :)

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