Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Take every opportunity to sharpen your skills

There's a reason I haven't been posting lately: namely, Ammanon Book Three, The Deliverance.

After it had been competently edited (thanks again, Mary!) I submitted it. And OMG. My publisher's manuscript reviewer, hereinafter referred to as the MR, about tore me a new one. She preferred the old school use of commas, for one thing. No real argument there. Then there's my writing style. If you've ever read my Ammanon books, you know I have adopted a sort of Old Testament narrative style to immerse the story in it's ancient setting. And you know that Biblical authors and translators quite frequently begin sentences with "and". Total no-no.

Worse, the format in which I had submitted it was all wrong. Again, I certainly can't argue. Publishers should demand that an author meet their requirements in order to facilitate review and production. Obviously this is no excuse, but the only rules I ever saw were 12 pt. Times New Roman, double spaced. And that was Book Two. Book One was 12 pt. Courier. Double spaced, of course. I was horrified that I'd made such an errors like indented paragraphs and page numbers when they weren't allowed, but I swear I never saw these specifications. Honest. Not in the contract; not on their website. Not that I'm the best searcher of sites...

The point is, I should have asked at the outset.

Anyway, bottom line, I've been slogging through the manuscript virtually letter-by-letter to correct such things. Invariably, one also finds many, many things to improve when one does this. Which brings me to the title subject.

For heaven's sake, stay sharp on the rules of grammar. I don't care how unconventional your chosen style, if the verb doesn't agree with the subject you're not saying what you want to say. A misused adverb can confuse or change the meaning entirely. Trust me, you don't want to confuse either your editor OR your MR. Know what you're doing! Even the automatic grammar prompts on your Word program can throw you if you don't know the mechanics of your language. It's especially important to know when the prompts are wrong!

I got caught once before when I discovered my grammar skills had become antiquated. In the process of updating, I discovered this online goldmine: Just using the free services can be a huge help. Pic your bugaboo (apostrophes, commas, etc.) read the rules, and take the quizzes. I took them all. I was amazed at the way colloquial usage can erode your recognition of proper form.

Check out other authors. Many use their blogs to help writers sharpen their skills. My favorite at the moment is Aaron Paul Lazar. He's turned me around on several points. But there are many others. Google topics like "Writing Essentials" and you'll find them.

Meanwhile, I'm truly indebted to both my editor and MR for forcing me to look again at my writing - this time with all the critical fervor necessary for perfection.

Okay. I've gotta get back to work.