For several years, I’ve been doing book editing and manuscript critiques for SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and I’ve noticed that aspiring writers tend to make many of the same mistakes. So maybe while we’re all beginning to think about spring cleaning at home, it’s a good time to consider cleaning up manuscript copy, too.
Here are a few things to look for before turning your manuscript over to an editor or publisher:
•Check spacing. Put one space between sentences. (I know that that’s not what many of us were taught years ago, but Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist then either!)
•Check spelling. This seems like a no-brainer but every writer should go through a manuscript looking for words that pass the spellcheck test and yet are still incorrect—like “she could hardly breath” instead of “she could barely breathe.” I keep dictionary.com minimized on my desktop while I’m working. Then I can pull it up and check spelling and words for the Thesaurus while I’m working.
•Make sure a dash is a DASH. A string of hyphens (—) does not an emdash make. On a Mac, the long emdash is made by holding down “shift” and “option,” and then hitting the “hyphen” key. Voila! A dash: —. A shorter endash is made by holding down “option” and then the hyphen key: –.
•Use transition words. And then, and so, next, after…all of these can help make the action travel along smoothly instead of jerking forward like boxcars.
•Check for common grammatical errors, like writing “we laid down” instead of “we lay down.”
•Be consistent with caps. Sometimes a word is capped in one place and then down-sized a paragraph or so later. If you have a longish book, create a style guide to help you remember what you decided to do.
WREN COTTAGE Writing & Editing
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”