A pair of pears

Red William pears after the rain

Red William pears after the rain

At the risk of seeming obsessed by pears, here is a pair of red William pears covered in raindrops.

These homophones incorporate a diphthong which occurred in the English/Italian exchange lesson we had going this morning.

The diphthong is represented, in the book we were following, by this list of words:

where, there, their, chair, hair, care

Plenty of pitfalls for foreigners their, and even one for native English speakers who forget there spelling!


The importance of proper editing

Finishing the first draft of a piece of writing is a great feeling. Although you should be very proud at this stage, you are far from finished yet.

As a writer, editing your work is imperative. It is not enough just to read back over it for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Proper editing requires you to look at your writing with a critical eye; you need to be completely honest with yourself about how successful your piece is in its current state. In fact, you need to be utterly brutal.


Good editing is the key

The following are some tips for editing your work as thoroughly as it needs.

    1. Let go of any romantic notion about ‘capturing the moment.’ You look at a particular scene in your story and see flaws and imperfections, but you don’t want to change anything because you feel as though you perfectly captured the mood at the time of writing. You may well have done, but if you want a story that is polished, professional and stands out, you will need to iron out those flaws. Nobody’s writing is perfect and that’s not what you should be aiming for – you’ll drive yourself crazy. But if you see something that strikes you as needing improvement, then it probably really does need it.
    2. Don’t be afraid to ‘kill your darlings.’ You have a sentence, a paragraph, or a minor character that you really like; but do you need them? Really? What are they adding to the story? Do they really fit, or are they actually spoiling the quality? If you can’t answer positively to any of these questions, then that part of your story is going to have to go. If you take out that sentence or scene, don’t throw it away completely; you might find you can use it again in another piece of work in the future.
    3. Get a proof-reader. It is virtually impossible to edit your work without feedback from an objective party. Ask a writer friend, or even find a ‘writing buddy’ to swap work with. Writers are almost always willing to help each other out, and as long as your proof-reader is not afraid to be honest and has a good critical eye then you will find the editing process much easier. You don’t have to follow every suggestion; if you’ve been advised to change something, but strongly feel this is a bad idea, then don’t do it! Different people will notice and like or dislike different things. Do listen to and think about all the feedback you receive, but sometimes you will need to trust your own opinion too.
    4. Don’t be precious about your work. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble not taking constructive criticism personally, this is something you need to work on if you really want to be a writer. If you ask somebody to be brutally honest about your work, they will be. You don’t only need to be prepared for this; you need to welcome it. Certain things can be disheartening to hear at times, but good or bad, everything will help you along the way.
    5. Don’t be afraid to be drastic. If you think an entire chapter needs to be reworked or a fairly important character is serving no purpose and needs to be cut, then do it. Don’t be wary of your own work. Experiment and make those changes. You might find your entire piece is twenty times better for it.
    6. There is a possibility you will never be happy with your work. Creativity and perfectionism often go hand in hand. It can be difficult to manage, but rather than achieving your notion of perfection, it is sometimes best just to step back and accept that your work is the absolute best it can be. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; we are our own worst critics.
    7. You will know when you are done editing. Once you’re debating whether or not that comma really belongs in the middle of that sentence in line 9 of page 34 you’ll realise that there’s probably little else you can do. You created this piece of work and you know it inside out. You will instinctively know when it is there.

The importance of editing is never to be underestimated. It might not be an easy process, but it’s a very satisfying one; you’ll be amazed at the difference a bit of thorough and honest polishing can make.

Does anyone miss carbon paper?

Pencil sharpener

A blast from the past

When we think about revolutions in writing, we tend to think about the act of writing itself, that is, the shift from forming letters on a page, to tapping keys and having the letters appear on a screen. It’s a huge difference, of course, and not all positive.

There’s something immensely cosy and romantic about the idea of scratching away with a nib pen by the light of a candle; at least I think so. There’s also some part of the ability to spell which dwells in the hand: it’s easier to spell a word correctly when you drift from one letter to the next in classic joined-up writing.

And yet the speed! The facility for correcting mistakes! We’ve come so far in these departments.

But we tend to overlook what I consider an even more dramatic change: in methods of duplicating.

It started with armies of scribes sitting with bowed heads, writing away with aching wrists as they listening to a text being read out, and woe betide them if they fell behind due to having to erase a mistake with pumice stone.

Then we had printing (a revolution in itself, that), then carbon copies (which are still going, see the BBC article and video), photocopying, scanning, and simplest of all, just pressing the button ‘Copy’ followed by ‘Paste’ to duplicate a document on the same electronic device or another electronic device.

It’s almost too easy. In fact it’s so much too easy that there’s a whole industry in stealing people’s intellectual property.

There’s something to be said for old, safe techniques like making carbon copies, whether it be for restaurant orders, or credit card numbers, or parking tickets. You can keep track of all the copies if you want to, and you don’t get the feeling that you’ve posted your literary gems through a hole into the winds of the universe.

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What’s the best way to write?

This question reminds me of the problem we were asked to discuss when I was an undergraduate engineer. In those days, knowledge of structural analysis was rudimentary at best and no-one was really sure about whether it was safer for a train to race over an unsafe bridge or to cross it somewhat gingerly. Lacking in the knowledge of what was needed to repair the structure, they decided to run empty trains over a defective bridge at varying speeds to see what worked best.

I won’t bore you with the answer but hopefully you see how that relates to writing. The question for authors is: should you race through your writing and then go back and check it or should you write each sentence and paragraph as if you might never have the chance to edit it?

Each mode has its advantages and disadvantages but, either way, the finished work must be polished and slick. No-one wants to read stuff peppered with errors, be they grammatical or story-related.

Let’s look at both extremes.

There is a clear advantage in getting to the end of the book as quickly as sensibly possible (note the use of the word ‘sensibly’ because presenting your readers with the first thing that came into your head will not impress them). Writing without worrying about spelling or grammar will improve the flow of the work because it’s being done ‘apiece’. Unfortunately it also means that you will face a major final editing session during which you must pick up all these errors, correct them, and then make any adjustments to the story that become necessary as a result of your modifications.

On a positive note, if you’re a new author, getting to the end of the book (even if you have a mountain of editing to do) will give you a real feeling of achievement.

The problem with self-editing is that it easy for your brain to see sentences as it would like to see them rather than as the the way you’ve written them (as per my double ‘the’ in this sentence). This extensive final editing is often glossed over by new authors and such sloppiness gives their work an amateur look.

On the other hand, taking it slow and steady means that you can carefully craft each sentence and each paragraph so that it reads well. You can think about your choice of language, carefully comb through loads of possible synonyms and ensure that the rhythm of the sentences makes for a good read. The drawback is that the slowness of the writing can make it difficult to keep track of the plot – by concentrating on the small picture, one can very easily lose sight of the big picture.

Following the slow path can also be perilous for first-time authors who will often either get bogged down in some technical detail or simply give up because it has started to look like the novel will never be finished. Of course, if you’ve checked, double-checked and triple-checked each chapter, your final editing will be relatively minor meaning that the time lag between completion and publishing should be small.

So, what is the best answer?

Naturally, I risk being accused of ‘copping out’ when I say that it really is a case of personal preferences, however I would emphasize that whichever method suits you, you should always see your goal as a finished book which is devoid of errors and professional looking. Nothing less will suffice.