"Roundheads and Ramblings"
This past week, I took a break from working on “Henrietta’s
Legacy” to get a head start on blog posts for the coming month. It’s called
juggling, I think. I’m committed to
doing another NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month) Camp in April. I’ve set
a goal of 30,000 words in 30 days. That’s low for NaNoWriMo veterans, but it’s
a goal I’m sure I can reach. It’s entirely possible to write 1000 words a day,
every day, so long as I do not let myself get distracted by other activities,
like doing the laundry or grocery buying, or planting tomatoes, or keeping a
blog up to date. One way I can keep my work focused is to have a backlog of
blog posts ready, so once again I’ve been exploring and evaluating new writing
Today, I have new editing software that promises not just to
correct one’s existing manuscript but also to make the user a better writer from
now on. Sounds good, right? I bought it, downloaded the program, and ran it on
the first completed chapter of the new book.
The program offered a whole set of grades, and most of mine were not
passing. Imagine: this old English teacher, with thirteen published books,
FAILED the grammar section. Horrors! I’m really bad at this! At first, I was
angry; then I started to realize that the program has its own definition of
grammar, which includes typos, extra spaces between words, spelling variations,
and missing punctuation. I’m still not very good, but I can attribute at least
some of my mistakes to fat fingers and blind typing rather than pure ignorance.
But first things first. The program is called ProWriting
Aid. That’s what it is, of course, although the title is not very catchy or
memorable. This is a serious program, written by experts, and their advice does
not come cheap. But then, no editing software will cost you as much as an
editor would. A free version exists, but it has several limitations. It can
only handle 500 words at a time. If you have a manuscript with 100,000 words in
it, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time chopping it into 200 pieces and
then loading them, one at a time, into the free version. I opted for a one-year
license at $50.00 that does not limit my file size. This version works from
within several different writing programs, like Microsoft (both Windows and MAC) and Scrivener. I tried
it with Scrivener and found that it works extremely well—much more smoothly
than Grammarly, which requires a certain amount of cutting and pasting even in
its most expensive form.
Next, I considered the topics covered. The first shot at
analyzing a chapter is called the “Summary.” This includes scores in four key
areas, along with the document statistics (number of words, etc.), and a quick
analysis of the main problem. Mine said
my “glue index” was too high, and I had entirely too many sticky sentences.
Now, I had no idea what that meant, but I would eventually find the
explanations. But first, I had to make my way through an analysis of my
vocabulary, sentence length, readability, dialog tags, pacing, transitions, clichés,
consistency, diction, grammar, spelling, and style. Each heading gave me scores, numbers of
corrections needed, and a comparison to all other users of the program. For
example, my readability level was a 73, which, it turned out, corresponded to
the average sixth-grade reading level. It also said my readability score was
better than 78% of all other users.
By the time I finished reading the whole summary, I was
convinced that I needed to make major improvements. But where were all these
problems and mistakes? So far, I had just seen final scores. To locate
individual errors, read the explanations, and make corrections, I needed to run
the program again, and again, and again because the program covers just one
issue at a time.
Next time, I’ll tell you how the correction process worked
The good news is that the proof pages for "Left by the Side of the Road" have arrived. They look pretty good, and I've managed to print them off so that my red pen can edit can edit away to its heart's content. The bad news is that it's a holiday weekend, and I once had hopes of taking some time off to vegetate and get ready for fall. However . . . .!
The good news is that this gives me time, not only to run a final line edit of the whole work, but also to set in play the formats for various electronic versions. And that means I can offer a few weeks of pre-orders for faithful readers who have been asking when the book will be available. The bad news is that such a plan -- while good in the long term -- makes the next couple of weeks incredibly complicated.
Enjoy your labor Day Weekend, everyone. And save a hot dog or two for those of us who are spending it laboring.
Latest bulletin: We should be able to get out of driveway by 2:00 this afternoon. Of course with the temperature going to 101 degrees and our ozone alert level headed for "Code Purple." I'm not sure why I would consider going outside.
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I've been passing the time by running one more "final" edit on my upcoming book, even though its editor and I have already passed it back and forth several times. This time, I'm just looking for last-minute blips, not substantial changes. As a guide, I've been following a list put out some time ago by Joel Friedlander
. This is what he says you should look for before you submit your final manuscript
1. Get rid of extra spaces. Whether you’ve used them for spacing or between sentences, your file should contain no double spaces at all.
2. Get rid of extra paragraph returns. We space things out so they look nice on the screen, but we don’t need or want them for typesetting. Your file should have no double paragraph returns in it.
3. Style, don’t format. When you highlight and format a piece of text, it may not survive the transition to the layout software. But if you learn to use styles your document will be more consistent and all the styles will translate just fine.
4. Account for unusual characters. If your manuscript uses unusual accents or other diacritical marks, make sure your designer knows in advance. They’ll be able to tell you the best way to ensure they are accurately translated.
5. Eliminate underlines. In book typography, we use italic fonts for emphasis, and almost never use underlines, not even for URLs.
6. Eliminate bold in your text. See #5, above. Although bold is often used for headings and subheadings, it doesn’t belong in the body of your text, use italic instead.
7. Resolve markups. Sometimes manuscripts arrive with unresolved issues in the markup, perhaps from an early reader or an editor. Your designer won’t know how to resolve them before the file is stripped of its code and ported to layout software.
8. Check for completeness. It’s very common for some parts of your book to arrive later than other parts. For instance, you might be waiting for a Library of Congress number or a CIP block, or there might be permissions late to arrive, or an index that will be dropped in after everything else is done. But don’t send a manuscript off to production if it’s missing major elements, whole chapters, some dialogue you’ll “be finished with in the morning,” or the rest of the quotes you want at the chapter openings, but haven’t picked yet. All of this makes the production of your book less efficient and more prone to errors.
9. Find and eliminate errant spaces. This is a tricky one, but will be caught in a close reading. You are proofreading before you go to press, right? What happens here, especially in books that are heavy with dialogue, is that a space will creep into the wrong place. You can’t catch these by searching for two spaces in a row. For instance, a space before a closing quote might turn it into an open quote when it gets to typesetting.
10. Proofread a monospaced copy. Every one of the errors I’ve talked about here is easier to spot if you do this last one. Save a copy of your book manuscript and change it to a monospaced font like Courier. You can use 10 point or 11 point and set your line spacing to 1.5 lines or double spacing and print it out or make a PDF. Then proofread that one, you’ll be amazed at the things that pop out that you completely missed when you read it in Garamond or Times New Roman.
Have I found problems? Oh, yeah! Of course I have, and I have many pages to go. That last idea of using a monospaced copy really makes a difference. I hate it, but it works. That's where I see the errors.
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One last item. In the next couple of days I'll be sending the completed manuscript out to a selected group of beta-readers, with several goals in mind.
(1) If there's a real problem with anything in the book, I need to hear about it now, not after it is in print.
(2), I'm asking that each beta-reader send me a review that could be used (or quoted from) in the book, in promotional materials, and on the internet. I still have a couple of slots to fill, so if you would be interested in doing an early review of "The Road to Frogmore," please let me know right away. I could especially use a male point-of-view.
(2) I will reciprocate by giving each reviewer full credit and by promoting your own work (book, website, etc) in my promotions, social media pages, and my own website.
Yesterday I offered you some "big" words. Today, I have some "little" ones. Do you remember homonyms? Those pesky little words that sound exactly alike by are spelled in several different ways and had several different meanings? In grade school I had a teacher who loved them. During quite periods, she taught us to play a game in which we made up sentences containing homonyms but substituted the word "teakettle" for the words themselves. The challenge was for the other students to identify the missing homonym. The sentences sounded like this: "I teakettle would like teakettle eat teakettle pieces of cake."
The game was just childish silliness, but it's not funny when a writer gets wrapped up in her story and types one homonym for another without noticing. Maybe you are writing a sympathetic description of an admirable politician who suffered from great depravation -- or did you really mean to type deprivation? There's not a spell checker in the world who will catch an error like that. And there's no sure way to avoid making the occasional goof. About all you can do is take time to think about the words that cause you trouble. Here's a baker's dozen that may trip you up when you are busily touch-typing.
• Cite (to summon, to quote, to refer to), Site (place, situation), Sight (view)
• Council (administrative or advisory group), Counsel (to advise, advice)
• Desert (waterless region, to abandon), Dessert (last course of a meal)
• Dew (moisture), Do (perform), Due (owed)
• Gait (manner of walking, Gate (door)
• Grate (iron frame), Great (large, magnificent)
• Haul (pull, carry, transport), Hall (passageway, large room)
• Here (in this place), Hear (to perceive sound, to sit in judgment)
• Idol (image, object of adoration), Idle (not busy), Idyl (poem)
• Leak (hole, to drain out of), Leek (vegetable)
• Made (created), Maid (domestic servant, unmarried woman)
• Meat (animal flesh food), Meet (a gathering, to encounter, to convene)
• Morning (before noon), Mourning (grieving, to grieve)
I've been in editing mode for several days now, so I decided it was time for readers to join me. In The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese,
chapters 12 through 14 cover the kinds of silly grammatical errors we all make when writing.
Here’s a list of little words you
don’t need. Try reading each sentence without that extra word. Don’t they all
SO (as in “I was so glad to see him.”) There’s an exception here: “so”
is acceptable only when it is followed by a “that”—as in “She was SO short THAT
she only saw people from the waist down.”
VERY (as in “I was very, very tired.”)
THAT (as in (“I thought that I should leave.” )
ALTHOUGH (“Although, I’m not sure I should.””)
JUST (“I was just beginning to get sleepy.”)
YET (“She hasn’t arrived yet.”)
RATHER (“It seemed rather rude.”)
EVEN (“Even the other guests were bored.”)
SORT OF (“The milk was sort of soured.”)
IN SPITE OF (“I was irritated in spite of myself.”)
PERHAPS (“I could, perhaps, take a nap.”)
QUITE (“I was quite tempted to do it.”)
FOR A MOMENT (“I hesitated for a moment.”)
THEN (“Then I walked out.”)
SUDDENLY (“Suddenly I stopped.”)
ALMOST (“The roast beef was almost burned.”)
I copied the list from another
blogger several years ago, and I’ve used it ever since. Once your manuscript is
complete, go to the “find and replace” function in your word processor, and
scan the whole manuscript for each word. That means you’ll go through the whole
manuscript about eighteen times, but you’ll be surprised at how many other
errors you’ll spot along the way.
Every time you find one of the words on the list, ask
yourself if the meaning of the sentence changes when you take the word out. If
it doesn’t, drop it.