If authors dread one subject, it is grammar. And grammar doesn’t even matter while you are writing your story. But after the second or third draft, you want to show your work to the world. And then you want it to be perfect. So what do you do? You take out your editing checklist for writers.
Editing is a small portion of creative writing, but many authors struggle with it. This pressure stems from agents’ and publishers’ expectations to send in flawless manuscripts, the backlash on the internet, and the wish to create top-notch content. When using an editing checklist for writers, authors can turn revising their work into a habit, making it easier to perform.
Editing is for everybody
Let me start by saying I am not a native English speaker. I also was told once that I have dyslexia, but I refuse to believe that. Anyway: grammar is not my area of expertise. I was lucky to grow up around English-speaking people and developed a natural feeling for the language. Living in the states for a while only strengthened that. But it baffles me that I make fewer grammar mistakes in English than in Dutch.
I still mix up than and then, were or were, and other small things like that. Often when I don’t focus on it. Which is the common cause of grammar mistakes. We all have lazy brains, let’s be honest. Plus it makes us insecure as heck. ‘Oh boy, I hope nobody will notice that run-on sentence.’ That’s why I always put grammar checks off until the last draft. Because honestly, it’s the least important part of writing. It’s just a few simple steps.
Get a virtual hand
Since I just admitted to having a lazy brain, I’ll also start with the easiest solution. Technology. We are blessed to be born in the day and age where computers fix all the crappy jobs. Including grammar and spelling checks. And I am not talking about Word’s spellcheck either since, as most of you know, that kinda sucks. No, I’m talking about software that was created to check your writing on a much deeper level.
Grammarly is a tool that can help you in multiple places. You can add it as a plugin to your browser (which helps when you want your Facebook posts and emails checked), use it online, or download it onto your computer.
After creating an account, you can add text files, which the program then checks for grammar, spelling, and punction. But it doesn’t stop just there. It checks how clear, interesting, and attractive (engaging) your text is, and if you chose the right words to deliver your message.
Grammarly will give you an overall score and makes it fun to try and achieve the highest possible. A tool every writer should have on their computer, in my opinion. Oh, and the plus side: the free version offers you plenty of help, so no need to invest the $12 a month (right away).
I also use Autocrit on occasion. The free version of this online program is a bit more restricted than Grammarly, but it does offer you that second opinion on your text. So for the perfectionists under us, this is a good double-check.
When you upload a text, Autocrit compares it to other ones in that genre. The free version shows you if you overuse adverbs, repeat words, how readable your text is, what the readability statistics are, and if your grammar and spelling are okay. The paid version opens up a lot more options, such as the rhythm of the text, cliché checks, and showing vs. telling. Unfortunately, that will cost you a whopping $30 a month.
2. Read it out loud
Your text should be pretty polished already if you run all the software. But technology can’t replace the human touch. So at this point in time, I’ll read the text out loud to myself. This will prevent you from reading too fast and missing weird structures, absent words, and other odd stuff.
I’m not only listening for the crooked sentences when I read out loud. I also check for things like flow, repetition, and suspense. And for some reason, it’s easier to pick up plot holes. Maybe that has to do with the fact that reading out loud improves your memory.
3. Check for passive sentences
My teacher and friend once gave me such valuable advice that it changed my whole writing style. They were three simple words, but they put the zest into my stories. ‘Write more actively.’ It’s true. Up until that point, I automatically wrote in a passive voice. It just came so naturally to me. But my friend was right. The active voice draws the reader into the action. It’s no longer something the protagonist undergoes, but it comes to life. It becomes an experience.
Ever since my teacher told me this, to help me improve my writing, I scan my texts for inactive word choices. A simple search in Word for is and was often does the trick. I am thankful for that because I still use the passive voice on many occasions.
Grammar is only a fraction of writing, but we put a lot of focus on it. The three steps described above should help you improve that tremendously with only a little effort. That way, you have extra time to work on your story.
We all have different things we need to focus on. So my last bit of advice to you: create your own checklist. To help you start that, I made a PDF with an editing checklist for writers. The rest is up to you.
Go, young Padawan. Write your heart out!