Thursday, November 28, 2013


AT THE PURE SPECULATION FESTIVAL,  I had the pleasure of sharing a Pure Spec Idol* panel with Eileen Bell (Barb Galler-Smith, Sandra Wong, and Billie Milholland were also part of our crew). During the panel, Eileen had some great things to say about the editing tricks she uses, so I asked her right then (nothing like putting her on the spot) if she'd do a guest post for Suzenyms. Eileen's a good friend; she said 'yes'. I'm happy to share her editing tips here, with you. 

BY THE TIME YOU GET TO THE FINAL EDITING STAGE of your manuscript, you've probably looked at it a hundred times and are heartily sick of it. You’ve used spell check, and you’re pretty sure there aren’t any other mistakes. Really though, you just want the thing to go away. 

In a perfect world, this is when you put the manuscript in a drawer for a while. When you look at it again, days or weeks or even months later, you’ll see the mistakes. The typos, double words, formatting problems, and the nasty way your main character’s name changed from Sally to Sylvia, and then back to Sally. In other words, you’ll see your work with fresh eyes. But what do you do if you don’t have the luxury of time? You fool your eyes into seeing your work in a fresh, new way, so you can catch those errors you just don’t see anymore. This can be done in four (sort of) easy steps: 

1. Find all the words you use far too often. They may be weasel words** (words that either serve no purpose, or show there might be a problem in your writing) or they might just be your new favorite words. (I got hooked on the word “cool” while I was writing a manuscript, and when I searched, I found out I’d used it 55 times. Really.) Everybody has them, and now is the time to root them out. 

Use the search function to find out how many of these favorite words you have, and how many times you’ve used them. You might have to give yourself a minute to get over the shock and horror of some of the numbers that pop up, but after that, go through your manuscript and either remove or replace these words, one at a time. DON’T just search and remove all of them at one go, because some might be fine where they are. This is the time to decide.

2. Once all the extra words are gone, it’s time to look for the tiny mistakes still strewn through your manuscript. If you have a proofreading function in your writing program, use it. It will catch some of the errors. Then, go over the manuscript again, and this time, change up the look so any mistakes that are left will pop out at you. 

If you edit on your computer, try using a different font, or a different color. Change the size of the page. I use the Zoom function on my writing program and make the page twice as large as usual. I can really see the typos and other mistakes this way.

Try reading your manuscript from the last page to the first. This trick breaks up the story so it can’t pull you in. This way, you can concentrate on the wordsand the mistakes. 

Print out a hard copy, and edit it the old fashioned way. This is remarkably effective, because it  changes the medium (paper, not computer screen) and how you look at it (down at the pages, not up at your screen). You’ll be surprised at what you catch. 

I highly recommend reading your manuscript out loud. Every time you stutter, or slow down, recognize that there’s a problem. If you see what the problem is, fix it immediately. If you only know that there is a problem, mark it in some way (I use highlighting) so you can go back to it and fix it later. And if you ever catch yourself saying, “What I really meant was...” it’s time to rewrite that section. 

This should eliminate most of the mistakes you can see. This leaves the ones you can’t

3. Check for correct spacing between words, and between sentences. I use the “View Invisibles” function on my writing program, which shows me, with a nice little blue dot, every time I’ve pressed the space bar. It might seem silly, but I always find double and even triple spaces where there should only be one. And sometimes, I find other formatting issues, and I can fix them, too. 

4. Finally, check the publisher’s guidelines one last time, to make absolutely certain you have set up the manuscript properly. Fix whatever needs fixing and then, your manuscript should be ready to go. I know. Sounds like a lot of work for tiny errors you can’t even see anymore. But here’s the deal. They HAVE to be corrected, because even though you can’t see them, your potential publisher will.
**For an in-depth look at weasel words, go to Melissa Jagears’ blog. (link to

Eileen's Bio: Eileen Bell (also known as E.C. Bell) has had her short fiction published in magazines and several anthologies, including the double Aurora Award winning Women of the Apocalypse (Absolute XPress) and the Aurora winning Bourbon and Eggnog. The Puzzle Box (EDGE Books Publishing) a collaborative novel she wrote with Billie Milholland, Randy McCharles, and Ryan McFadden, came out in August, 2013. Her first ‘I wrote this myself’ novel, Seeing the Light, will be available in November, 2014, through Tyche Books. When she’s not writing, she’s living a fine life in her round house (that's in a perpetual state of renovation) with her husband, her two dogs, and her ever hungry goldfish. Find Eileen online at: Webpage:, Facebook: Twitter: 

Eileen’s Upcoming Release: Seeing the Light is a paranormal mystery novel to be released November, 2014, by Tyche Books ( The book is based in Edmonton—and the Palais office building is based on the Arlington Apartments, built in Edmonton in 1909 (and home, briefly, to a serial killer!): Marie Jenner has never had much luck. Her job sucks. Her apartment – the one with the unbreakable lease – has a ghost. And worst of all, her mother won’t let up about her joining the “family business.” Since that business is moving the spirits of the dead on to the next plane of existence and doesn’t pay at all, Marie’s not interested. She wants a normal job, a normal life. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Apparently, it is. Even when she applies for the job of her dreams, Marie doesn’t get what she wants. Well, not entirely. She does get the job – but she also gets another ghost. Farley Hewitt, the newly dead caretaker of the building, wants her to prove his death isn’t an accident, and she’s pretty sure he’s going to haunt her until she does. All she wants is normal. She isn’t going to get it!

(Thanks, Eileen! Really looking forward to reading Seeing the Light when it's available!)   

* If you're not sure what Pure Spec Idol is, it runs pretty much the same way the TV show does, except contestants submit the first few pages of their manuscripts anonymously. The editors put up their hands to stop the reader from reading further, when they hit a point where they would stop reading because of a writing problem. Once three editors put their hands up, they're expected to explain why. I've been on quite a few of these, the panel is usually great fun, and contestants usually find the feedback helpful. It's also a hoot for the audience if the reader throws in a few ringers for the editors. At this last convention, Billie Milholland tossed us the opening from J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. None of us recognized it, and we all criticized it. :-) 

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