Writing a story is fun. To write a good story a writer must immerse himself (or herself) into the story, even to the point of almost becoming one of the characters. In our minds we must live in the world we create, and if we create a world full of adventure, mystery, intrigue, and romance, we are sad when the story ends. Sad to leave that wonderful world, but also sad and a bit anxious because now begins the work of getting our great story ready to be published.
While we experience the adventures in our imaginary world and while we put those adventures into the written word, we don’t care much about grammar, spelling or consistencies. All we care about is to get our tales onto the pages of a scribbler or, these days, into the hard drive of our computers, eager to leave a record of our dreams and imagination behind. Perhaps to read it some day and relive the experience, but if we want others to experience the great joy we felt when we spun our tale in our mind things change. We can’t just have a mess of misspelled words, unfinished sentences, long sentences without any commas or periods, or paragraphs that go on for pages and pages without breaks. If we want to pull our readers into our world, we need to make sure the writing flows. Inconsistencies need to be fixed, stated facts need to be true, timelines need to be consistent, and so on. We can’t have a character have blue eyes in one chapter and brown eyes in the next, unless the character wears contact lenses. And the reader needs to be informed of that. If we make up names for our characters, which is the case in fantasy and science fiction, we must take care not make them unreadable and we have to spell them the same every time. Readers don’t like to stumble over words.
Now to the job of editing. Writers use different methods to edit their work. Some people advise to just write the story and then worry about spelling and grammar. I don’t work that way; I already edit while I’m working. Once I’ve written a sentence, I read it again to make sure it says what I wanted to say. It makes editing the whole manuscript a lot easier later on.
When I’m done with my story I read it again and check the flow of the story. I look at grammar and whatever catches my attention. If I find misspelled words, I correct them, but I don’t really look for them. Then I read it again. This time I concentrate on searching for misspelled words and wrong words. After that I run my Spell-check program, which will call my attention to ‘misspelled’ names. Those are the names I created. When Spell-check prompts me, I add the ‘misspelled’ names to the dictionary. That way I will be alerted if I spell a registered name wrong. Spell-check will also find actual misspelled words if I missed them the first time around. However, I will never rely on Spell-check alone, because there are many mistakes in the program. Most of the time I will ignore the ‘suggestions’, but I do pay attention to them.
After the Spell-check, I usually put the manuscript away for a few days. Then I’ll read it again in the hope to find anything I might have missed. After this I'll print it out and let my wife read it. She also checks for mistakes and marks them on the pages. It is always a good idea to have somebody else read it,. Different eyes see different things.
Then I send it in and carry on with my next project.
When I get my edited version back from my editor, I don’t just go through the edits and blindly accept them. I read the manuscript again, very slowly. If I find an error or if I feel a sentence or word needs to be changed, I do so at this time. When I come to the editor’s comments and suggestions I make sure the suggestion is correct. Editors are human and make mistakes. That is a fact. I may not always take the editor’s suggestion, but I may make a change in the sentence or word the editor didn’t like.
When I started publishing, I was in a great hurry to get my novels published. I remember going through a finished novel with Spell-check, relying completely on the program to find all of the errors. I usually read the novel only once before I sent it in. Also, I accepted all of the editor’s suggestions without questioning them. Reading my earlier publications now, I find many errors that should not have been there. I’m not blaming the editors for that. I blame myself for being in such a hurry to send in my novels. After all these years and having published and edited over twenty books, I know how easy it is to miss things. We may have written the word ‘track’ when it should be ‘truck’; our eyes see that, but our mind will accept it as correct, (as will Spell-check!). Or if we write ‘if’ instead of ‘is’, a common error, our mind will convince us that it is correct when we are reading the whole sentence. Even missing words will be filled in subconsciously. That is how we are wired. We are not robots but human beings who are not infallible. We make mistakes, but with a little bit of care we can fix those mistakes.
As far as I’m concerned, editors are not there to rewrite our stories or to even correct our misspelled words or our grammar. Their job is to make certain there are no inconsistencies which we may not be aware of, improper or offensive content, and finding the odd error that slipped through our scrutiny. I'd like to call editors the 'final product checkers', but in the end the onus lies with the author to produce a product free of blemishes. We cannot rely on others to do that, be it our reading partner or the editor. Like anything in life, people have to take responsibility for what they do, and writing a story for others to read is one of those things. Just my opinion.
Like any good tradesman (I refuse to use the word ‘tradesperson’. It sounds stupid.) we writers have to make sure we are skilled in the use of the tools needed to put down the stuff brewing inside our heads. Those tools are called ‘words’. We have to know how to spell them and how to string them into comprehensible sentences. We need to know the correct grammar and whatever goes with it. We need to study our language and keep on learning. Few of us will ever be perfect, but we can strive to give it our best.