Ah, the thrill of being a new writer. You hold the image of or feel excitement about your completed or soon-to-be-completed project. What kind of clues might a new writer need; and will you avoid this kind of embarrassment?

I received an email from the relative of a new writer. She was distraught because her relative had self-published without an editor and was on a book-signing tour. The woman explained the book was filled with typos, punctuation errors, and just bad writing (though claimed it was an exceptional story). She was sure college professors everywhere would one day make it required reading for students as a classic example of what not to do. No matter how good a writer you are, after writing comes editing; but these clues can help you as you write.

Let me be clear that these clues are ones even best-selling or popular writers have to pay attention to . . . or pay someone to pay attention to them. New writers are often so eager to get their writing to the public they miss one or more steps. Here are several key points to remember before you contract to work with an editor, mail your manuscript to an agent, or self publish.

Use your eyes and the Spell Check feature. This seems simple enough; yet the number of times I’ve received projects where this wasn’t done is, well, all the time. MSWord has a useful feature that shows when punctuation, grammar, and spelling need adjustment: It underlines these. If you wrote dialogue a certain way on purpose and the program underlines it, ignore it. Otherwise, pay attention to the underlines. Watch for you’re/your, their/there, its/it’s, and similar word uses. Know that if you type form and meant to type from, Spell Check may not catch it.

Did you use the right word? If you aren’t certain, look it up online or in a dictionary. Don’t rely solely on an online Thesaurus if your goal is to avoid using the same words repeatedly. One client kept using a particular word from the Thesaurus, though she didn’t look up the definition. When I explained what it meant and asked her to substitute its definition to make sure that’s what she intended, she was appalled. That was absolutely not the meaning she wanted to convey.

Use paragraphs, especially for dialogue, and include chapter breaks. I’ve received single-spaced manuscripts with either an entire chapter or the entire manuscript as one paragraph, or one paragraph that covers one or more pages. A really easy way to get the hang of this is to look at a book in your genre, or any book. A basic guide is when a new person speaks or a new thought is introduced, you create a new paragraph. Even if your editor corrects some of your paragraph breaks, do make an effort.

You have to read what you write. What you see when you read from the computer screen is different than what you see when you read from a hard copy. It’s also different when you read it aloud to yourself. One of the best ways to help you do this with a fresh eye and mind is to print a copy and put it away for a few days. When it’s time, sit with the hard copy and a pencil, and read it aloud. You’ll see extra spaces that don’t belong and other glitches you missed when you read it from the screen. Most importantly, you’ll hear how it sounds. Pay attention to consistencies, flow, and action sequence; and if anything catches your attention, adjust it. Never assume readers know what you do. If you write non-fiction, don’t allude or hint, explain.

Avoid run-on sentences. These happen for several reasons, but the primary one is because the writer doesn’t understand punctuation. It’s just too easy to get punctuation rules online or in a handbook for this to be a huge problem.

My all-time favorite: too many words that end with “ing.” Sometimes they’re absolutely the right word. Most times words that end in “ing” take the punch out of the action and require one or more verb forms, and you use more words than needed to convey your message.

My hope is that these clues help you tighten and improve your writing. Write fearlessly when you start. It’s important to get it all down on paper; but it’s critical that you plan to go back and tweak, edit, move, and delete. The more you write and edit, the more practiced and adept you’ll become at writing this; but you’ll still need to proofread and edit. Another pair of eyes (in the head of someone with knowledge) is always a good idea. And, the fewer things an editor has to adjust, the lower the fee will be.

Happy writing!

Author's Bio: 

Joyce Shafer is a life coach and published writer who helps new writers expand their skills and confidence. Her e-book for new writers, “Write, Get Published, and Promote,” is available at lulu.com and discounted at her Web site. See coaching programs for new writers at hfreewebs.com/writegetpublishedandpromote or email jls1422@yahoo.com.