Musings of an Editor

I love editing, and when people find out I’m an editor, they invariably ask me what some of the most common mistakes I see are. I’ve been making a list.

How could you possibly help Bill? How could you possibly help, Bill? These sentences say two different things. Commas. Know them, embrace them.

Commas are not random. Read the sentence aloud to find the natural pauses.

Don’t use quote marks for emphasis.

Don’t abuse the hyphens.

Contractions. Use them.

Compound words are an actual thing.

Two hyphens do not an em dash make.

A semicolon connects two independent but related clauses. It never appears before a conjunction or a list. What’s a conjunction? Are you effing serious? 

Speaking of conjunctions, they are often, but not always, preceded by a comma.

Stop with the comma splices. A comma splice is when you join two entirely unrelated sentences with a comma. ex: I took my dog for a walk, the grocery store was busy that day.

Did I say don’t use quote marks for emphasis? Yeah, I was serious.

To and at are not interchangeable.

When writing dialogue, if you wouldn’t say it that way, don’t write it that way. Pretension is irritating. ex: “I brought your groceries.” “Just place them on the table.” Or, “Where’s the soap?” “All the cleaning supplies are within the cabinet.”

When seeking out beta readers, try and find someone who doesn’t routinely wipe drool off of his or her chin. While “duuuud, ur book iz totel asomnes” may be gratifying, (although I hope not) you probably won’t get constructive feedback from them.

In and on are not interchangeable.

Alright is not a word. I don’t care if your spell check doesn’t flag it. It is not a word.

There are three points in an ellipsis.

Why would you say: “the legs of a man” when you could say “a man’s legs?”

Simplify. Did you need three adjectives, an adverb, and a related clause in that sentence?

He who sends an unproofed first draft to his editor will suffer.

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 At any given time I have three to seven open projects in various stages of production, whether in first round edits, out for beta reading, rewrites, final proofing or in pre-publication. I read a lot of words. I see a lot of mistakes. I scream new and ever more colorful epithets silently in my head. I hope these tips will make your work better and make your readers happy.

About Ellen Campbell

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