What Editors Want- The Do’s And Don’ts Of Submitting Your Writing
August 21, 2019
You know the shiver that goes through your body when you hear nails scraping down a chalkboard? How your senses go on alert and you invariably cringe? That’s what bad grammar in a piece of writing feels like to an editor.
Every editor wishes for a world with good grammar. Close your eyes and imagine that for a minute. Conversations wouldn’t require mental edits, you wouldn’t be tempted to correct your friends/ family/ partner/ random person you’re meeting for the first time, nor would you want to rethink relationships. You could move around without that poker face that you’ve perfected when faced with bad syntax or grammar. Beautiful, isn’t it? Now open your eyes and realise that if all this were true, all of us editors would probably be out of a job.
In all seriousness though, all editors have their own working styles, and their own list of do’s and don’ts and pet peeves. I’ve developed mine over the years as well, and with every new experience, I’ve seen the list evolve. One thing that doesn’t change is my absolute inability to edit or write without the document being in serif, specifically in Times New Roman, font size 12. It’s almost as though my brain and fingers refuse to cooperate with the words on screen.
Keep It Simple
That being said, I do have other points on my list that have remained constant over time. A major one involves the use of complicated language to describe simple events, something I blame our education system for. We were taught to use the most complicated word available in the thesaurus in our writing because it makes us sound smarter. I call this the GRE-effect. Nobody enjoys looking up definitions while reading. And, it really doesn’t add IQ points for the writer. I recall trying to unsuccessfully explain this to a writer a few years ago. He reasoned that this language was necessary for his readers to accept him as a ‘serious writer’. When logic failed to make my point, I resorted to showing him the clip from FRIENDS where Joey uses the thesaurus to make his reference letter to the adoption agency sound smarter. Realisation dawned on him right with the laughter track on the clip, and the changes recommended were made.
Another side effect of academia is the tale of the never-ending sentence. I get that the purpose of a conjunction in a sentence is to act as a connector, but let’s also remember the purpose of a period! A friend had once asked me to edit an article for her – not a difficult or even unusual task, mind you. Until I started reading a sentence which ran on for ten lines. I’d lost track of what her initial point had been by the time I got to the end of the sentence. Word of advice here – break your thoughts down into shorter sentences. Use conjunctions when required, they truly are a lovely member of the grammar world, but not to make each sentence a paragraph by itself. Confused? Read through the paragraph above by replacing every full stop with an ‘and’. Now, read through it as it is. Does that help?
Keep your language simple and save the complexities for the story. Trust me, you’ll have an infinitely better piece of writing then.
Let’s Punctuate Right
Then there’s the indiscriminate use of exclamation marks as well as swapping a question mark for a full stop, though the latter doesn’t bother me as much as the former. An exclamation mark at the end of a sentence conveys surprise or delight, and a single one suffices here. (Yes, I’m looking at all those writers who think ‘!!!!’ conveys a higher level of surprise or delight.) Similarly, use a question mark for a question. The meaning of a sentence changes depending on the punctuation mark used to end it.
The Power Of An Apostrophe
It is also important for a writer to do a basic spell-check before submitting their writing. Remember, there exists a difference between its and it’s, your and you’re, effect and affect, they’re, there and their. ‘Its’ and ‘it’s’ are the most common errors in writing though. A simple trick here is to remember that the first shows possession while the latter is a contraction (it’s – it is). Still confused? Swap them in a sentence and see if it makes sense. The same is true for ‘your’ and ‘you’re’, and ‘their’, ‘there’ (used as an adjective, noun or adverb) and ‘they’re’.
Content Is King
At the end of the day though, what matters most is the content. Spelling errors can be worked around, grammar can be fixed, sentences can be shortened, chapters can be broken down into paragraphs, and so on. But, if the content is sub-standard, it becomes difficult to salvage it. Difficult, but not impossible. This is where the writer-editor relationship comes to the fore. It is the editor’s responsibility to help the writer put out the best version of his/her story finally. The words belong to the writer, the thoughts are his/hers. All an editor can really do is provide a direction, and then help guide the writer down that path.
To all the writers out there – trust yourself and your editor. Have faith in your story and in your editor’s feedback. Chances are high that it will be a satisfying experience all around. Especially if this process takes place with good grammar. If that is the case, you’ll find me happily cocooned in my non ‘nails-on-a-chalkboard’ place, reading and editing articles in TNR, size 12.
A love for the written word has led Oishani to structure her life around reading. Books introduced her to a world filled with so many possibilities, and helped her understand the power of a well-written story. With an educational background in English Literature and Film & Television Studies, she has worked as the editor for an arts magazine in the past. She believes in the healing powers of a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and the chance to explore a new city. And, no matter where she might be, her Kindle (loaded with books) is never too far from her person.
She is the editor at The Curious Reader. Read her pieces, here.