Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wordcraft -- Stuff nobody tells to beginners

Did we all open our newsletters from Duotrope’s Digest this week in awe of the number of new listings and deadlines? Yes, vacations are over and it’s time to start serious writing again. (Not that we aren’t always writing but. . . )

My light summer writing included critiquing other people’s entries for writing workshops at the ArmadilloCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Austin in August and the FenCon convention in Addison, Texas, September 23-25. And they critiqued mine.

This year’s coordinator of the writing workshop at FenCon, Debbie Waller, sent all of us information on writing critiques, as well as an article entitled “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners.” Inspired, I made my own list of things nobody ever told me. (Or at least, that I didn’t heed the first time.):

Heads up on headings -- those things editors (or workshop readers) so often want at the top of manuscripts to tell them whose work they’re reading and what page of it they’re on. The first time I used them, I didn’t know -- honestly -- that there was a format for headings on the toolbar of my computer.

Using the format means the heading always stays at the top of the page, no matter how much material you add or delete. Not using the format means a heading drifts erratically down the pages the more you write. When I get a new computer, I have to find the heading format all over again. But it’s worth it. Have I seen this issue more than once, even from good writers? You bet.

Page numbers, please -- In an ideal world, pages always come off the printer in order. In my world, when the printer spits them out, some fall on the floor, some slide under the desk, and so on. Then I’m left matching printed pages to the version on the screen to piece the story together. Besides, it’s always easier in a workshop to be able to reference the page number of the item you’re talking about. And yes, the format for adding page numbers can vary from computer to computer. I had to get reacquainted with my toolbar.

Use spell check -- No, it won’t do all your work for you. In fact, it only does the easiest work, picking up strings of letters that obviously aren’t words in its dictionary. But why not delegate some of our work to it? We writers have enough to do as it is.

Don’t JUST use spell check -- I’ve heard people at workshops insist that they never use spell check because it, of course, doesn’t detect every misspelling. Invariably, these are writers who have misspelled words in their manuscripts.

Spell check, notoriously, will pass by an erroneously spelled word if the misspelling is itself a valid word. One manuscript I saw used “query” when the writer obviously meant, from the context, to write “quarry.”

Another spell check trick is to offer you a list of spelling suggestions. How often have we clicked on a likely looking one, only to realize later that it wasn’t what we meant? This is the hard stuff we have to find by reading our pages on our own, sometimes with the help of a dictionary.

(About the picture -- I couldn’t resist using a photo of the grandmotherly sheep doll I snapped at a previous ArmadilloCon to go with this post.)


Libraryfest at the Lakewood Library, 6121 Worth St., Dallas -- Huge bargain book sale, kids’ activities and live music this Saturday, September 10, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Members only preview sale Friday, September 9, 6:30 - 8 p.m.


Writers Garret Open House Saturday, September 10, from 3-5 p.m. upstairs at Paperbacks Plus, 6115 La Vista, Dallas. Connect with others who have strong literary interests and see what the Garret has to offer. Free, but donations appreciated.


1 comment:

  1. I think errors are here to stay. Even the most polished writers have them. That's why I read with a pencil. The misspelling does interrupt my reading; however I do believe they are with us into the future. For instance, Apple's autocorrect cannot be disabled. It's horrible, making basic mistakes such as subject and verb agreement. Ya just gotta live with it. Sometimes they are funny. The funny ones can be read at . Enjoy the laugh.