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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, January 9, 2011

5 Essential Tips on Self-Editing from Catherine Ryan Hyde

While I’m in bed, sick as a Schnauzer, be-virused and ensnotified, and my brain seems to have gone on a journey somewhere far, far away, one of my favorite authors, Catherine Ryan Hyde, has kindly offered to Pay It Forward with a guest post.

Some Notes on Self-Editing
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I’ll open with the words of cartoonist Joe Martin, creator of the Mr. Boffo comics—

“Pay attention to detail: the five most important words in business.”

If you’re wondering why that’s funny, you need some tips on finding flaws in your own manuscript.  And you probably need someone else to double-check your work.  But don’t feel bad, because we pretty much all do.

Years ago I was rereading a short story of mine, which contained the following line:

 “In the morning she photographed Vincent making coffee in his boxer shorts.” 

Now, I had already read that line dozens of times.  And nothing had struck me as out of place.  But on that last reading, something broke through.  It was…laughter.  I began to laugh uncontrollably.  Real hurt-your-ribs kind of stuff.  And I said, out loud (when able), “Why doesn’t Vincent just use a paper filter like everybody else?”

“In the morning she photographed Vincent in his boxer shorts, making coffee.” 

That’s what I had meant to say.

Unfortunately, you are the author.  And you know what you meant to say.  Ergo, you are the least qualified person on the planet to judge whether you are saying what you meant to say.

I have no magic bullet to remedy this special form of blindness.  If I did, I’d be a rich author, indeed.  But here are a few helpful hints.

1). Always use spellcheck but never rely on it.  Do an editing run-through dedicated to the errors spell-check won’t catch.  Look at every “through” and “though,” and pay special attention to “it’s” and its,” and…well…I could go on, but you get the idea.

 2). Try the proofreader’s trick of reading one sentence at a time, starting with the last one at the end of the page and working backwards.  It helps you not to get caught up in content when you mean to study form.

3). Create your own “search list.”  Pay close attention to the errors that are pointed out in your critique group, or by your beta readers.  If they note that you’ve misused a semi-colon or put your punctuation on the wrong side of the quote marks, make a list of these shaky areas.  Then open the manuscript file and do a series of computer searches.  Enter a semi-colon in the search field.  It will stop at each semi-colon, one at a time, allowing you to check its usage.  Then move on to search a quote mark followed by a comma or a period.  I guarantee you, your eye will miss instances of the error.  I guarantee you, the computer will not.

4). Read your work out loud, slowly, to a friend, or, better yet, have them read it to you.  No friends, or friends out of patience?  I know.  I empathize.  You’re a writer.  It comes with the territory.  Read it into a recording device.  Read slowly, and read it exactly as it appears on the page, pausing where there is a comma, not pausing where there is not.  See if it comes out the way you thought it would.

5). Give up and seek help.  No one ever said writing could be accomplished as a solo flight.  A helpful member of your critique group can be quietly enlisted.  You can arrange a trade.  You will do a great job editing his or her manuscript for obvious errors, and he or she will do a bang-up job on yours.  It’s just one of the many unwelcome truths in the life of an author: it really helps when the page is not fully memorized.

One of the best self-editing strategies you can develop is more an attitude than an actual technique.  Take pride in the cleanliness and correctness of your manuscript.  Imagine that you are preparing for a job interview, and that you want this job more than you’ve ever wanted a job in your life.  Prepare your manuscript the way you’d prepare yourself for that interview. 

The sneakers with the holes in the toes won’t do.

Maybe that seems unfair to you.  After all, it should be about whether or not you can do the job.  You’re qualified.  So why should your sneakers matter?

What if 200 fully qualified applicants show up to apply for one opening?  Then the choices boil down to more subjective factors.  And the applicant in the clean, un-holey shoes is showing better judgment, more desire for the job, and a good overall personal ethic.
But it’s up to you.  Just ask yourself how much you want this job and go from there.


Catherine Ryan Hyde’s latest novel is the fantastic JUMPSTART THE WORLD  which has been called one of the four best YA books of 2010 by the winner of the “Best Kidlit Book Blog,” award, There’s a Book by blogger "1st Daughter."

And if you’ve got a ms. ready for the editing process, you’re in luck—because Catherine is offering manuscript evaluations for a limited time. For a very reasonable fee, she will evaluate your first 30-50 pages and give suggestions for further self-editing. Contact her for details at ryanhyde@sbcglobal.net .  

Thanks Catherine!

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Blogger Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Wonderful guest post.

And "ensnotified" cracked me up.

January 9, 2011 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Clarissa Draper said...

This is really good. Thank you.

January 9, 2011 at 11:16 AM  
Anonymous jm said...

Great tips, as always (hadn't thought of reading from the bottom up!)

January 9, 2011 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

It's funny how our brain fills in the blanks on things we write. We know what we meant to say and if there's a typo, a clunky sentence, a missing word or comma, our brain just doesn't see it. I've fallen victime to that so many times and each time I say I'm not going to allow my brain to take over my eyes again. I also tell myself that while my brain knows the difference between "its" and "it's," my fingers do not, nor do they care. The search function is like mana from heaven. Fortunately, I'm only subbing to crit groups at the moment.

Searches are awesome.

January 9, 2011 at 1:52 PM  
Blogger Kittie Howard said...

Anne, this is really good info. My thanks to Catherine. I especally made note of the search part. And I hope you're feeling better soon. My hub's in the same boat, says he feels like a bug bomb landed on him!

January 9, 2011 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Reading out loud helps me! And I'd be lost without my critique partners.

January 9, 2011 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Jan Markley said...

Sorry you're sick. Great guest post. Number 3 is a good one. Another tip is to set the grammar check in Word to severe (or whatever the most intense one is called) doesn't mean you'll agree with everything it brings up (it might be too formal for your writing) but you can see what it highlights.

January 9, 2011 at 7:11 PM  
Blogger Florence said...

Thanks for a great Sunday post, as always. I hope you get better soon.

It is so true that we need "other" eyes to find what we read, but do not see.

I have put a draft through spell check, style-writer an advance editing software that is programmed with MSWord. I've read and re-read and then ...

Two pages in my reader found an error. She was please that this time she only found a hand full of them and thus was able to find "hole" in the plot. It is good to know. When you give you work to someone to read and they become distracted with minor errors, their concentration on your story is ruined.

I will certainly check out how reasonable, Catherine's reasonable is. Thanks again, Anne.

January 9, 2011 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Florence said...

As I cringe and find two errors in my comment.
Yuck );

January 9, 2011 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Vatche said...

Catherine, this is a great resource for me to use while editing!

I never thought of editing from the bottom of a page up! Thanks for all the awesome tips.

Write on!

January 9, 2011 at 10:39 PM  
Blogger Simon Kewin said...

Great advice there Anne. Your original coffee line made me laugh out loud too! I often find I spot typos if I come back to a piece after setting it aside for a time. Otherwise, I guess my brain remembers the text at some level and I "see" what it thinks is there not necessarily what is really there ...

January 10, 2011 at 4:56 AM  
Blogger Angelina Rain said...

What great pointers. Thanks for sharing this.

January 10, 2011 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Many millenia ago, in a galaxy far away I was co-editor of my high school literary magazine. I learned a lot of these lessons the hard way. After reading and rereading submissions, layout, etc. you really do see what you expect to see. not what is actually there. Hmmm....might be an existential life lesson there. Incidently, starting at the end is a good memorization trick too. Perhaps one friend to be the copy editor and another to be the story editor would help. Putting something aside for awhile to let the eyes rest is a good suggestion too. I remember my mother telling me not to read when I type but just follow the letters. I guess it's in how the mind works. I know people who can glance at a page and see all the typos. Must be an annoying skill....Richard

January 10, 2011 at 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Kay Tee said...

The AutoCrit Editing Wizard is helpful at finding editing "gotchas" like this.

It's great at finding places where you have repeated words inadvertently or where you have repeatedly overused a word (e.g. LY adverbs)

January 10, 2011 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, everybody (hack, snort, sniffle) I hope you're all now editing your masterpieces using Catherine's great tips. Hope I'll be able to say something coherent soon.

January 10, 2011 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

I do hope you are well and thinking straightly soon! Great tips. Catherine is so wise, as are you. We have discussed many of these editing dilemmas. Funny how "from" becomes "form" almost every time in my manuscripts. Love find-and-replace. Great invention!

January 10, 2011 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Ann Best said...

Hope you're soon well.

But thanks to Catherine, I laughed! Laughter is great. Her "line" cracked me up. Yes, it does help, I've found, to read my writing out loud. (I read to my daughter; she has a great ear.) This is the only way to catch such things as "form" instead of "from."

Thanks for the guest post.

January 10, 2011 at 4:56 PM  
Blogger Stephen L. Brayton said...

A former editor collects what she calls 'Wandering Body Parts'. I've sent her a few from some of the manuscripts I've read. Unfortunately, one of them was mine. "The arms and head of the overly made up woman sat behind the counter." Yeah, when I read that aloud I had to laugh.
Good advice in your post. Thanks.

January 10, 2011 at 7:09 PM  
Anonymous G Thomas Gill said...

Thank you for the terrific tips. I really like the reading from the end of the page, that will help place concentration on each sentence rather than on the story.

January 10, 2011 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger Sierra Godfrey said...

Yay! Great post. Thanks Catherine! I had the pleasure of taking an intensive self editing workshop with Catherine last year and I have to admit: these principles improved my editing.

January 10, 2011 at 8:20 PM  
Anonymous Life In A Pink Fibro said...

Great post. All things we should all be thinking about all the time.

January 11, 2011 at 3:43 AM  
Blogger Clark Lohr said...

10-4. Thanks.

January 11, 2011 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You have an award today, Anne!

January 12, 2011 at 3:40 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kolodziej said...

This was a terrific post! I love when you talked about reading it from the last line to the first. I think that might seem a little difficult at first but your right your reading form not content. Love it!

<3's and Fangs,
Liz ^_^

January 12, 2011 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger Name: Holly Bowne said...

Oooh, I especially like the "Create your own search" tip. I know I tend to do some of the same things over and over without realizing it. Thanks for the advice!

January 13, 2011 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Marja said...

Thanks for a good laugh and some wonderful advice.

January 16, 2011 at 1:48 PM  

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