Today, as both a writer and freelance editor, I want to talk about professional development, and to get the really painful part out of the way, let’s start with grammar. Yes, I know. Your editor is supposed to fix that. It’s why you hired them.
NO. You hired them “to make your story or novel the very best representation of your work that it can be”. Write that down. The function of an editor is “to make your story or novel the very best representation of your work that it can be”. Did you notice what it does not say. It doesn’t say anything about them being your personal grammar nazi.
“But I’m a creative genius, not a mechanic!” Of course, you are, bless your heart. You’ve done the hard work of writing a first draft. You’ve taken the time and spent those tedious hours making all the corrections suggested by Spellcheck and grammar checker programs. You’ve even puzzled over those solid blue and squiggly red lines under certain words and figured out how to make most of them go away. Hopefully, you’ve had the wisdom to run it past a couple of beta readers and apply their feedback.
You’re right. At this point, you have done more than at least seventy-five percent of the writers out there. It is obvious that you care about your work and your professional reputation. So, with a sense of pride, you send it off to your editor and wait for those final polishing touches. Good job.
A few days or weeks later, you get an email from your editor with your edited manuscript attached. Eagerly, you open it to see if he/she found anything to correct. Horror of horrors, your baby has so much red ink dripping from it that it looks like a scene from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. What could possibly have caused this? You did.
I know that seems harsh, but it’s true. Sure, Spellcheck picked up the obvious misspellings. What it didn’t pick up were the wrong word choices. You know the ones. “Their were dozens of floral displays around the ornate casket.” Nope. Spellcheck didn’t catch that one because it is a real word. Take heart. Your grammar checker probably did. But it didn’t catch “Madison was breathless after dancing the real.” Your grammar checker doesn’t know that it should be a reel, not a real. This requires knowing that “reel” is a noun and “real” is an adjective. And, it is to be expected that a writer would know that.
Some writers may have a Master’s Degree in English and be able to avoid most of these pitfalls. They put in the work for their degree and are rewarded with less grammar errors and, quite possibly, lower costs to edit their work. They have their own challenges, but we will save those for another time. Most writers fall into the group that has an Associate or Bachelor Degree or possibly only a high school diploma. They may recall the lessons from their English teachers or professors, but they probably haven’t had the practice to really ingrain those lessons. They need to work harder at it.
Whether you are the holder of an advanced degree or a high school GED certificate, you need to be continuing your education as a writer. No one succeeds or rises to the top of their profession without study.
My brother, started out years ago as a sprinkler-fitter. For those who don’t know, those are the people who install the fire suppression systems in buildings. Because he had the drive to succeed and to search out what areas of knowledge he lacked, he rose rather quickly. When he wasn’t working, he was studying areas in the industry he wasn’t familiar with. Soon, he owned his own company.
Nowadays, he still owns a much bigger company doing all the jobs he used to do, but he is also in demand as a lecturer. He is one of less than a half-dozen people in the U.S. qualified to do certain types of suppression systems and to train others on those systems. People come from as far away as Germany to attend his seminars and he is paid very well for his knowledge. He rose to that level by studying his trade, reading everything he could get his hands on, and always asking questions.
A writer who can’t be bothered with learning grammar, is a bit like a sprinkler fitter who doesn’t want to learn the names of the tools or the sizes of pipe used in his job. Sure, he can get by for a while asking his boss, “Do you want the skinny pipe or the fat pipe?”, but he’s never going to make journeyman that way and he will inevitably be let go the minute business slows. Learning all the tools of the trade and staying up with your continuing education is a crucial part of being a professional.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a two-part blog about the importance of reading. Not only is it important to read both in and outside of your writing genre, it is also important to read about the craft of writing. You should be reading books and articles about plotting, character arcs, dialog, book blurbs and synopses, point of view, setting, marketing, and … wait for it … grammar.
The above topics are just a partial sampling from my personal library which is filled with titles by the likes of Rayne Hall, Jenny Baranick, Renni Browne and Dave King, Donald Maass, Anne Lamott, and K. M. Weiland. If you don’t recognize these names or the titles of their works, then your continuing education as a professional writer is sadly lacking.
“Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares” by Jenny Baranick
“Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King
“Writing Vivid Characters” by Rayne Hall
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career” by James Scott Bell
“Writing Vivid Settings” by Rayne Hall
“Writing About Villains” by Rayne Hall
“Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story” by K. M. Weiland
“27 Fiction Writing Blunders – And How Not to Make Them” by James Scott Bell
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot and
Character Development” by K. M. Weiland
“Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass
Anything by any of these authors is well worth your time and money. Happy reading.