yellow smiley face painted onto pavement with text reading "stay safe"

Educating Your Author About Content Warnings

The Trigger Warning Database defines triggers as “specific kinds of content or stimuli that cause a trauma response.” To help mitigate these responses, many forms of media (such as movies and television shows) include “content warnings,” notices that inform audiences of potentially graphic or disturbing scenes or topics in a piece of media. Content warnings are commonplace in the media industry in the form of ratings and on-screen notes (think the catch-all phrase “viewer discretion is advised”), and are beginning to pick up in the publishing industry as well.

Though some authors may put in their own content warnings and send them along to the editor with the manuscript, editors can also help their authors determine whether their book needs content warnings, and if so, which ones they should use.

Because some triggers are so specific, there is no way for an author to possibly include a content warning for everything. However, a good rule of thumb is to include warnings for broader topics, such as:

  • Descriptions of mental illness
  • Scenes of graphic violence or sex not expected in the genre
  • Sensitive topics like abuse, racism, homophobia, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence, or suicide

One thing an editor does is help the author narrow down their audience and genre. Young Adult and children’s books can especially benefit from content warnings, as there is a larger portion of adults buying those books for their kids. It is useful to think of these content warnings as similar to parents’ guides for television shows; parents want to scope out the product first to make sure it is what they think is appropriate for their children. Some genres also include “built-in” content. For example, “Splatterpunk,” a subgenre of Horror, is categorized by gory scenes and graphic violence, so readers who know the genre are well aware of its content, and the back cover blurbs of these books most likely cover the bases of their plots well enough for new readers to know what they’re getting into.

As an editor, let your author know that using content warnings may allow their book to find a more specific readership. Content warnings serve as a notice to readers of themes they will encounter in the book, and while some may choose not to read books with those themes because they are hurtful to them, other readers may find the same content beneficial or even healing, as they can relate to the character’s struggles that are so much like their own.

Remind your author that content warnings do not spoil the plot of their books, nor should they. A content warning may simply say something like: “This book contains scenes of graphic violence and descriptions of severe depression.” Remember when informing your author of content warnings they can include that said warnings can be vague.

There are a number of ways an author can include content warnings in their book. For example, Tobly McSmith’s young adult books Stay Gold and Act Cool include content warnings on the copyright page, while TJ Klune’s Under the Whispering Door contains an author’s note after the dedication warning of certain themes his book discusses. Published by Ooligan Press, Erin Moynihan’s book Laurel Everywhere does not include a traditional content warning, but it does contain a list of helplines and organizations pertaining to the story’s themes, such as grief and suicide prevention. Some authors also include content warnings at large on pages on their websites or in the descriptions of their books on Goodreads and bookseller sites. And of course, sometimes the back cover blurb can function as a content warning of sorts, a short description of the book’s plot that helps inform readers of what they are about to read, which may include difficult topics.

There is no standard place to put content warnings in a book. Because of this, potential readers who are not seeking out those warnings may never see them, but others who are actively looking will still be able to find them.

Lastly, remind your author that content warnings are always more helpful than harmful. While some authors may think that including warnings in their books will deter potential readers, it can actually have quite the opposite effect. Someone may want to read a book but also want to err on the side of caution and thus avoid a book with a description that does not tell them enough about what content they may encounter. Meanwhile, a book with content warnings may encourage those cautious readers to pick it up since they know that they won’t stumble into anything they didn’t already expect. Content warnings show that authors care about their readers.

As an editor, your job is to help your author make their manuscript the best it can be. You want your author’s book to reach audiences far and wide, and you want readers to keep coming back. A reader who knows an author cares about them will always come back.

the word "proofread" followed check boxes that say "grammar," "formatting," and "spelling"

The Dos and Don’ts of Proofreading

The topic of copyediting is talked about at length within the publishing industry, but there is little discussion about another aspect of the editorial process that is equally as important: proofreading. Here is a quick guide to everything you need to know about proofreading your next project.

Proofreading is one of the last steps in the editorial process. The manuscript has completed all rounds of copyediting, has been XML typecoded, and has been sent to the designer to complete the interior. The book is nearly complete and just needs a final check to ensure that errors weren’t introduced during the design process and that there are no lingering grammatical errors. Proofreading is the final step before the book is sent to the printer, but there is much confusion about what is and is not covered during this stage of editing.

Here are some things to look for as you complete your next proofread:

Weird Spacing:

Be on the lookout for missing spaces between words or punctuation and places where there are additional spaces where there shouldn’t be.

Leftover XML Coding:

At Ooligan, our books are XML typecoded so that the designer knows what special treatment different words and sections should have. Sometimes parts of this code accidentally make its way into the final manuscript, so be on the lookout for erroneous code.

Discrepancies:

Double-check that everything from the final version of the manuscript has been included in the designed version. Check for missing paragraphs or words, missing images or graphics, or missing punctuation marks.

Punctuation:

As you are proofreading, check the punctuation surrounding words that are in bold or italics—do they follow the guidelines outlined in your style guide? Also be on the lookout for placement of punctuation within quotations—do they follow the guidelines outlined in your style guide?

Closed vs. Open Compounds:

Make sure that compounds are following the Hyphenation Guide for Chicago.

Consistent Spelling:

Be on the lookout for names, places, and other words that may be spelled inconsistently throughout the manuscript. We recommend keeping the style sheet for the book nearby as you proofread.

Ellipses:

Double-check that all ellipses are formatted according to the style guide. For Chicago, it is three periods with spaces: . . .

Windows, Runts, and Orphans:

Be mindful of the way paragraphs start and end. Widows happen when the last line of a paragraph starts at the top of the next page. Runts occur when the last line of a paragraph ends with a single word. Orphans happen when the first line of a paragraph is on the bottom of a page.

Here are some things to keep in mind when completing a proofread. The time for any substantial editing is over. Now is the time to look for any glaring errors that are remaining after the copyedits are completed. We don’t want to be rewriting any of the text or posing queries to the author—there shouldn’t be any substantial changes to the manuscript at this stage.

I hope this guide helped shed some light on what is expected—and what to avoid—for your next proofread.

Happy proofreading!

Asexuality Awareness Flag

Using Inclusive Language for Asexuality

October 23 to October 29 is Asexuality Awareness Week! So to wrap up this week, I wanted to explain what asexuality is and share some resources on how edit or write about asexuality in a conscientious and thoughtful way. One of the primary ways of editing underrepresented voices that you may not have experience editing is to get familiar with style guides that will “help you develop a basic understanding of inclusive, empowering, and respectful language.”

What is a style guide?

A style guide is used to guide the editing of a project. Editors will include character names, prominent locations, editorial decisions, and other elements of a text or project that they might need to refer to later in a text on the style guide. They can also be used to maintain consistency if the project is passed between editors. The goal of these guides is to ensure consistency across a project; for example, style guides make sure “grey” and “gray” are not used interchangeably. In order to make style guides more inclusive and guarantee that editors are catching moments that could interrupt a reader’s experience, editors can read guides that discuss how to treat language surrounding underrepresented identities so they can catch when these identities are not being treated accurately by authors. For examples on such style guides, try Radical Copyeditor, Disability Language Style Guide, Conscious Style Guide, A Progressive’s Style Guide, GLAAD Media Reference Guide, and Race Reporting Guide.

Asexuality: What is it?

Asexuality is a spectrum of attraction in which a person does not experience sexual attraction. It encompasses many different terms along its spectrum including demisexual and grey asexual. Being asexual does not always mean that someone doesn’t have sex or doesn’t enjoy it, but it can. Under the umbrella of sexuality, there are people who are sex-positive and don’t mind having sex and there are people who are sex-repulsed and don’t like hearing, thinking, or talking about sex. Some asexuals even experience arousal or have a high libido without feeling sexual attraction or a desire for sex.

Attraction

One helpful way to look at asexuality is to break down attraction. There are a few levels of attraction: sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sensual attraction, and aesthetic attraction. Sexual and romantic attraction are often combined in allosexual and alloromantic people (people who experience sexual and romantic attraction), but they are not necessarily the same thing. An asexual person might experience romantic attraction, defined by the Asexuality Archive as “A sense of ‘I would like to be involved in a romantic relationship with that person,'” but they wouldn’t also experience sexual attraction, defined as “A sense of ‘I would like to engage in sexual activity with that person.'” Each of these types of attraction is on its own spectrum.

Similarly, sensual attraction and aesthetic attraction do not exist on either of those spectrums. Aesthetic attraction is defined as “Non-sexual/non-romantic attraction to the way someone looks. Often described as the desire to ‘admire someone like a painting’, but not necessarily anything further,” while sensual attraction is defined as “A sense of ‘I would like to engage in sexual activity with that person.'” Keep in mind that these definitions are somewhat fluid due to the difficulty of defining these feelings and the differences of the human experience. Everyone’s experience is different, and it’s important to listen to people when they have their own definitions for their identities.

Food for Thought

Allosexual people can sometimes be careless when discussing sex because for many it is a natural part of life; however, for asexual (or ace) people, not feeling sexual attraction is just as natural. The Conscious Copyeditor links this article, under their sexuality section, about how easily ace people can feel alienated by cultural norms, especially when prioritizing sex as the “pinnacle of happiness” or saying that sex is part of being human or having a successful relationship.

If you are curious about learning more about asexuality or have questions, try exploring the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, or AVEN, for more nuance.

stack of books on a table

Tips for Efficient and Effective Copyediting

Good editing is a balance between following usage and grammar conventions and applying them thoughtfully. A successful editor hones writing for clarity and cohesion while letting the author’s voice come through. Whether editing your own writing or someone else’s, the following tips can help you streamline and improve your work.

BECOME FAMILIAR WITH COMMON USAGE PITFALLS

Editors keep their resources handy. The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and Elements of Style by Strunk and White are some essential tools. It’s not necessary (or possible) to memorize everything—but familiarity with common usage errors will help flag them when you edit. Here are a few common examples of usage confusion:

Was vs. were

This is determined by the linguistic “mood.” Merriam-Webster provides a succinct and easy-to-understand explanation of moods in language.

English has three moods. The indicative mood is for stating facts and opinions like “That cat is fabulous.” The imperative mood is for giving orders and instructions (usually with an understood subject, you), as in “Look at that fabulous cat.” The subjunctive mood is for expressing wishes, proposals, suggestions, or imagined situations, as in “I wish I could look at that fabulous cat all day.”

If you are writing about something that is not a fact, opinion, or instruction, it is likely in the subjunctive mood, requiring “were.”

If my dog were able to speak, he would request biscuits all day.

Instead of

If my dog was able to speak . . .

Further explanation can be found at merriamwebster.com.

Further vs. farther

The difference between these two words is figurative and literal distance.

Let’s discuss this issue further.

or

Let’s discuss whether we should walk the dog farther today that we did yesterday.

Grammar Girl offers some great tips on the topic.

Me vs. I

This tricky usage situation can be solved by considering the subject and object of a sentence. The subject is who or what is doing the action, and the object is who or what the action is being done to. Use “I” when referring to the subject and, in general, “me” when referring to the object.

My dog and I were invited to a party.

but

The party invitation was sent to my dog and me.

TED-Ed offers a quick and fun video tutorial on the topic.

DEMYSTIFY THE COMMA

Commas can be complicated and sometimes subjective. There are hard and fast rules, but ensuring clarity should be your priority. Spend some time getting to know the rules (or where to find them). Considering the structure of a sentence is key.

The Elements of Style contains an excellent overview of comma usage. The most common points of confusion are explained by the following suggestions:

“Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause” (Strunk and White 11).

It is raining, but a walk may still be pleasant.

”Do not join independent clauses with a comma” (Strunk and White 11). If the two statements are closely related, use a semicolon. If not, use a period.

I walked my dog four times today; he would have preferred five.

I walked my dog four times today. I can’t wait for this rain to end.

Grammarly provides a clear and thorough primer on comma usage.

DON’T SACRIFICE THE AUTHOR’S VOICE IN THE QUEST FOR PERFECT GRAMMAR

Before you begin editing, read through the work to get a sense of the writer’s style. Strunk and White explain style in the following statement:

Style is an increment in writing. When we speak of Fitzgerald’s style, we don’t mean his command of the relative pronoun, we mean the sound his words make on paper. All writers, by the way they use the language, reveal something of their spirits, their habits, their capacities, and their biases. This is inevitable as well as enjoyable. All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation—it is the Self escaping into the open. No writer long remains incognito (Strunk and White 98).

Next time you read, particularly fiction, consider what it is that makes the language in a manuscript unique so that you learn to preserve it when editing. Keeping the author’s voice requires thoughtful judgment and may require letting some grammar rules or preferences go. Try to get a sense of their particular cadence or patterns, and be careful not to eliminate their style by overediting.

cover of Chicago Manual of Style

Three CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE  Rules … and Their Exceptions

Anyone who has used Chicago Manual of Style, or any style guide for that matter, will know that sometimes the rules seem arbitrary or contradictory and full of exceptions. Here are three often confused rules and their many exceptions.

  1. Number rules: When to use numerals versus when to spell out a number.
  2. The Chicago Manual of Style has an entire section dedicated to the treatment of numbers! Twenty-eight pages of rules in the 17th edition hardcover. One of which I just used in the last sentence, CMOS 9.5: “When a number begins a sentence, it is always spelled out.”

    Chicago’s number rules follow a standard pattern for most usages. Numbers one through one hundred are always spelled out (unless used as part of a percentage, date, or time), and those higher than one hundred, and up through the hundred thousands, find whole numbers spelled out—forty-seven thousand or three hundred—with everything else up to one hundred in numeral form—423, 11,354, etc.

    But the ultimate exception to the rule comes in Chicago 9.7: Consistency and flexibility.

    Where many numbers occur within a paragraph or series of paragraphs, maintain consistency in the immediate context. If according to a given rule you must use numerals for one of the numbers in a given category, use them for all in that category.

    Chicago has very specific rules about when to use numerals and when to spell out numbers, here Chicago tells you to forget what you have been taught in the previous seven sections, but to default to the lowest common denominator, aka, if you must use numerals for one, use them for all. Consistency is key.

  3. Possessives: Plural possessives and names ending in s
  4. Possessives are a constant source of confusion for writers and editors alike. Take what is a common area for errors and add in the extra confusion of plural possessives as well as proper nouns ending in s, and you have a formula for exceptions and non-uniform treatment across style guides. The Chicago Manual of Style treats these s-fraught instances in a few different ways.

    First, your typical plural noun ending in s receives a solo apostrophe, sans the added s, while a singular noun ending in s—think bass—gets the apostrophe and added s, like any other noun would (CMOS 7.16).

    Next, solo proper nouns ending in s get the standard apostrophe + s, the Jones’s for example (CMOS 7.17), while plural proper nouns receive a singular apostrophe. Seems pretty simple right?

    BUT, when the singular and plural forms of the noun are the same—think species—both forms only receive a solo apostrophe to form the possessive. The Chicago Manual of Style also recommends recasting a sentence to avoid the possessive if confusion is likely. This rule also applies to singular entities that are plural, such as the United States (CMOS 7.20).

  5. Punctuation: In and around quotation marks.
  6. To round out our list we have some wonky rules around punctuation, specifically how punctuation functions in and adjacent to quotation marks and parenthesis. First, what you will find is that different punctuation marks have different rules. You would think that commas and semicolons would be treated in a similar fashion. Not so!

    Periods and commas are included inside of quotation marks, unless you are British or identifying a file name using quotation marks at the end of a sentence. For example:

    He described what he heard as a “short, sharp shock.” (CMOS 6.9)

    Vs.

    If your server uses “index.html” as its default file name, the name of your own default file cannot be “index.htm”. (CMOS 7.79)

    Semicolons, as promised, are treated differently than commas and periods and are placed outside of quotation marks, as are colons. And finally, question marks and exclamation points follow quotation marks, unless they are part of the quote itself (CMOS 6.10).

    Table showing rules for punctuation relative to quotation marks and parenthesis

    Indeed, these rules are so often confused that Chicago has a table devoted to explaining where punctuation lands with regard to quotation marks and parenthesis.

So next time you encounter one of these instances while writing or editing, don’t worry. The answers you seek exist complete with their many exceptions.

a mug of tea next to a stack of newspapers

News Versus Novels: Editing in Practice

Editing is the bread and butter of the written word. No matter who may argue against it, writing always improves with another pass over to find things you missed the first time. In both the book world and the news world, editing is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the text while ensuring understandability for the audience.

When publishing a book, the first step is often developmental editing. This editing process consists of suggestions from an editor that shape the narrative or structure of the work, while leaving aside small grammatical or other errors for later line editing (or copyediting). Developmental editing is usually a back-and-forth process, with the author in conversation with the editor, often undergoing multiple rounds of revision.

In news, however, developmental editing may be better described as content editing, which often happens alongside copyediting, or line editing, which focus on grammar. For most media outlets, the writer submits their piece and their hands are off of it once it lands on the editor’s desk. While novels and other published works will have an internal style guide for consistency and may be utilizing a style manual (like Chicago), news writing is held to an occupational standard (usually AP Style) that should be mutually intelligible across sources, though there are obviously house rules applied as well.

News editing focuses on clarity and immediacy of information, so past tense but active voice are prioritized. While audience is always a consideration for any written work intended to be published, news editing that uses AP style can access accepted shorthand that would be considered out of genre for books. For instance, all months should be abbreviated besides March, April, May, June, and July and single-digit numbers (zero to nine) should be spelled out while numerals should be used for numbers ten and above. Copyediting (or line editing) has the largest overlap between the two worlds, though as the copy chief for a newspaper myself, I often make sweeping changes to a piece that would probably require an author’s okay if it were a novel.

More generally, news editors that are conducting developmental editing, such as the editor-in-chief or section editor, are ultimately in control of the vision for the writing. They function as gatekeepers for the content, tone, and even the piece itself—cutting an article from a newspaper entirely is always on the table. For book editors, the author is still the driving force behind the work’s purpose and voice, as they aren’t always held to the uniform standard of a cohesive newspaper. This does mean, however, that while a newspaper may employ fact-checkers or have copyeditors perform fact-checking, the authenticity of a book manuscript may fall solely on the author.

Both news editing and book editing lead to some great insights. Perhaps news articles would be much improved if the developmental editing process were more collaborative and not so definitive, and maybe book editing would be a more streamlined process if developmental editing could play a heavier hand. Or perhaps things are better off as they already are! While the digital revolution has complicated the way publication functions either way, the work of editing is still a robust tool for ensuring that, whatever we are writing, the very best version of it makes its way to the readers.

hands holding pen

How Point of View Can Help Your Story Shine

One of the most important elements to consider when beginning a new writing project is point of view (POV). Every story, article, research journal, play, etc. uses POV, and many people, whether they think about it or not, have a preference when it comes to what they like to read and/or write. Depending on the project you’re working on, there are many ways you can use POV to your advantage.

What is a point of view?

There are four types of POV: first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. Any POV can be used in any project, but the way a writer uses them can have a big impact on the story.

The first person POV uses I and me pronouns, and the narrator is most often the protagonist. First person is great for writing that is more introspective, as it puts the reader in the character’s head, but it also limits the POV to one character. Technically, a story written in first person could have POV switches, but this is often confusing to the reader and can bring them out of the story if they miss the switch. In short, first person is primarily for stories with one narrator only.

The second person POV is the least common of the four, using the you pronoun and mostly used in short, introspective pieces like poetry or choose-your-own-adventure books. Second person invites the reader to step into the character’s (or sometimes even the writer’s) shoes, which can be compelling if done correctly. However, most genre works are typically better suited to the other POVs because it can be difficult for readers to get emotionally invested in a story told in second person, as they may feel like they are following a fictional version of themselves rather than a character. An article on Reedsy mentions a famous example of a well-received story told in second person: Jay McInerney’s novel Bright Lights, Big City, which “follows a magazine fact-checker at a magazine living in the 1980s New York City fast lane.” Reedsy suggests that McInerny might have opted for second person because of the fast pace of the book and the unique perspective of the main character’s profession.

The third person limited and omniscient POVs are similar in that they both use he, she, and they pronouns and allow a certain amount of introspection. The difference is that limited follows the thoughts and feelings of one character at a time, while omniscient has more of a “bird’s-eye view” on the entire story. A common mistake in writing third person limited is that the writer may reveal too much information to the reader that the character would not know. (In this case, if the writer wishes to intentionally add a sense of dramatic irony, their story might be better suited to an omniscient POV.) Third person also lends itself well to POV switches, unlike first and second person. Omniscient doesn’t technically need to switch, since the reader has access to every character’s view at the same time, and limited can switch between line or chapter breaks, provided it is made clear that it has switched. One example of limited POV switching can be found in Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series, which denotes POV switches through chapters named after their respective characters.

How to choose your POV based on the story you want to tell

Picking the right POV for you (and your story) is very important as, naturally, the POV is the first thing the reader notices. What genre is your project? This is a good question to ask because some POVs are more commonly used in some genres (for example, fantasy titles tend to lean toward third person, while first person is popular in young adult and coming-of-age titles). Are you writing a story with a single narrator and a lot of inner monologue and introspection? Try first person. Do you want to set the scene for the reader but leave the characters in the dark until it’s time for a dramatic reveal? Third person omniscient might be the right POV for you.

And of course, think about what you like to read. Do you like getting into the heads of the characters? Or following fast-paced scenes back and forth as the plot reaches its climax? Do you want to relate to and feel the emotions of the characters as they happen, or are you looking for more of a commentary approach? Choosing the POV that can answer these questions is the first step in making your story shine.

teacher and students in classroom

Are Singular “They/Them” Pronouns Grammatically Correct?

At the end of last year, I was catching up with an aunt who is an English teacher. Politics came up, as is inevitable around the holidays, and I asked her how she felt about the use of they/them pronouns to refer to a single person.

“It doesn’t matter how I feel about them,” she responded. “It’s just not correct grammar.”

I wondered if she was right. Certainly, I was taught growing up that they and them are plural pronouns used to refer to more than one person or thing. However, language is created by humans, and therefore, humans have the power to change language as they wish. Of course, a single person cannot suddenly decide upon a new definition for a word. The point of language is interpersonal communication, which is only successful when parties who speak the same language know the same definitions of words and how they are used.

The documentation of that widespread agreement can be found in style guides and dictionaries. Ooligan bases our style guide off of The Chicago Manual of Style, so I looked up what it says about singular they/them. In CMOS 5.48 it says:

…because he is no longer universally accepted as a generic pronoun referring to a person of unspecified gender, people commonly (in speech and in informal writing) substitute the third-person-plural pronouns they, them, their, and themselves (or the nonstandard singular themself). While this usage is accepted in those spheres, it is only lately showing signs of gaining acceptance in formal writing, where Chicago recommends avoiding its use. When referring specifically to a person who does not identify with a gender-specific pronoun, however, they and its forms are often preferred.

This explanation validates the singular they/them as grammatically correct. While Chicago is growing to embrace they/them, there is still some hesitation in using plural they/them, “As of the 17th edition, CMOS recognizes that such usage is gaining acceptance in formal writing but still advises avoiding it if possible—for example, by rewriting to use the plural (see CMOS 5.255).”

Knowing that different style guides have different recommendations based on the disciplines they cater to, I checked the American Psychological Association‘s (APA) guide. It turns out that they endorse the use of singular they with no holds barred “because it is inclusive of all people and helps writers avoid making assumptions about gender.”

The APA cited Merriam-Webster’s acceptance of the word, and sure enough, the definition of they in this dictionary includes usage “with a singular antecedent to refer to an unknown or unspecified person; to refer to a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed; [and] to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” In other words, according to Merriam-Webster, singular they/them is grammatically correct. In addition, they was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2019, as “the nonbinary pronoun sense of ‘they’ was added in September 2019.”

To me, the growing acceptance of singular they/them is a relief. I always found it tedious when I was growing up to write he/she or (s)he when referring to a hypothetical person whose gender was irrelevant to the topic. These phrases were clunky and interrupted the flow of my writing, but as a person using she/her pronouns, I never felt that generic he was an appropriate alternative. Not only do they/them give gender-nonconforming people a way to refer to themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable, but they also give writers an innately gender-neutral way to prevent disjointed writing.

The pronouns are in the awkward growing stage as their new usage continues to gain acceptance and faces pushback. It will take time for some folks, like my aunt, to accept the change when they have been using they/them a different way for their whole lives. Even Google Docs is trying to autocorrect the sample sentence at the end of this blog post. Still, I daresay that in twenty years no one will bat an eye at the sentence, “They are a really good teacher.”

stop sign against sunset

How to Know When to Stop Editing 

Every writer has heard the golden rule of writing a manuscript: write first, edit later. But when the first, second, and third drafts are done, when does the editing process actually conclude? Other than the hard deadline of sending a manuscript to print, editing can seem like a never-ending process without a real due date. But over-editing can be detrimental to your manuscript. So if you feel stuck in a rut while editing, here are a few tips to help you know when you’ve reached the end of the editing process.

Your changes are becoming smaller.

Once you’ve reached the end of your first draft and started the editing process, you’ll probably find yourself addressing plot holes and other areas that need improvement. As you continue to edit, however, there will be fewer and fewer big-picture issues that need addressing. If you find yourself mulling back and forth over a comma here and there, the wording of a specific sentence, or moving paragraphs around, it’s probably time to take a step back. If you have time, spend a few weeks thinking about your story. Plot out key points and how they tie together to form your unique narrative. Do any moments feel like a stretch or unnatural for your characters? Does that edit actually improve your manuscript, or is it just something to change? If you struggle to come up with changes you feel strongly about, you have probably reached a point where you are no longer improving your story, just making it different.

You’re editing without a second opinion.

Writing in any form is challenging, and showing your work to others is an even harder step to take. Editing can prevent your writing from getting to those who can look at it with fresh eyes and suggest changes that could help you write a stronger, more cohesive story. Remember that you know your story and your characters better than anyone, and not every suggestion has to be, or should be, followed if it doesn’t feel right. No first draft is perfect or the best your writing can be, but keeping your writing to yourself can lead to overlooking edits that may lead to a stronger story. Unless you are writing a story just for yourself, a second pair of eyes will bring forward any gaps you might have missed and allow you to polish your manuscript in exactly the right places without over-editing or focusing on minute changes.

Trust your instincts.

This may be the most challenging step of your editing journey, but you are the expert at telling your story, and only you can tell when it’s finished. If you find yourself going back time and time again to make the same changes or struggle to find anything you want to change, trust yourself to know when you’ve reached your final draft. Writing a manuscript is a huge feat, and your writing will be stronger by the end of it. Even if this is your first journey in writing, you have a stronger instinct than you might realize. Trust that you know your characters and lean into the sense of knowing when their story has reached its final iteration.

Writing may be a challenge in and of itself, but editing is another beast every writer must face. It may be scary to let your work go and say that it’s finally done, but your writing will be stronger for it. Over-editing can make a piece of writing feel overly structured and potentially limit your reader’s connection with the words on the page. While it’s easier said than done, don’t be afraid to send an imperfect draft into the world—it’s better than you think it is.

Happy editing!

hands hovering over typewriter

Tips and Tricks for Writing Memoirs

A memoir weaves together stories from the author’s life, but including every detail and event is impossible. So how do you narrow someone’s entire life to fit into one book? Here are three tips and tricks for writing and editing memoirs.

Trim the Timeline

A lifetime of unique experiences and events can make for an exciting read. When sitting down to write a memoir, many feel that they need to go from their birth all the way through the present, detailing everything that has happened from start to finish. While some memoirs do encompass the entirety of the author’s life, most should focus on particular events and periods in the author’s life.

The reality is that a book can only hold so much, and in order to build a cohesive, engaging narrative, the memoirist should trim the timeline of their life, only keeping what is truly helpful in showing their story.

But how do you determine what is worth including?

Think Thematically

A theme is an idea that runs throughout a work, such as love, friendship, overcoming adversity, etc. It’s important to decide what themes are important in telling your story because these will serve as a guide for what people, places, and events to include. Within the book itself, these themes can guide the reader in making meaning of your life experiences.

For example, if one of your themes is overcoming adversity in a creative way, then include the story of how you started a business from scratch after suddenly losing your long-time job. If loving and helping animals is an essential part of your life story, then include the story of the time you saved a baby bird from a hungry neighborhood cat and nursed it back to health.

Selecting scenes to support the book’s themes involves combing through your memories and selecting the gems that will immerse readers in your life experiences.

Mine Memories

Dig through your memories for moments that truly embody the themes you chose. An important part of making a moment stick in a reader’s mind is the prose itself, but being selective about which memories you include is also key. You may have saved countless stray puppies and sickly kittens, but which of these rescues had the biggest impact on you and your life? You may have endured many moments of adversity over the course of your life, but which ones have contributed the most to making you who you are today?

There may be many gems in your mine of memories, but the ones that sparkle and shine the brightest are the ones that readers are most likely to remember long after closing the book.

Writing a memoir can be an incredibly fulfilling and empowering experience, and editing one can be just as rewarding. Trimming the timeline, thinking thematically, and mining through memories can help the writing and editing of the memoir manuscript run smoother while making a more memorable and engaging experience for readers.