Polish Dog or Polish Manuscript?

Happy New Year! In the midst of the many New Year resolutions, one of the things that writers seem not to do is polish their writing.  And before you unleash hell on my posts, I'm talking about query letters and manuscripts.

Would you like to buy a paper cut?

I've been painstakingly researching agents.  And it seems their main complaint about query letters is proof reading.  I didn't believe it at first.  Why would writers proof read their manuscript and not a single page letter?  But as I read agents' blogs and interviews, this was among one of the top reasons for rejection.

This brought to mind one of the things I took away from anagent panel. Polish your manuscript.  The agents will wait.  And they will.

I had sent my manuscript to an independent editor.  His claim to fame was being the first editor for Stephen King.  When I got my manuscript back, I had noticed some common follies I'd made.  Here's the list:

  • Towards, Upwards, Downwards, Backwards, etc
    • Eliminate the 's'
  • Way
    • Is way necessary?
    • "He backed away into the table" vs. "He backed into the table."
  • It's vs. Its (It is vs. Its)
    • I knew this, but was unconsciously mixing both up.  This is pretty common apparently.
  • , and then
    • According to the editor, it's good style to eliminate the word 'and' when using this word combination.  But I've seen it used by best selling authors, which many writers know can get away with stuff new writers can't.
  • Very
    • I knew not to use this much, but the editor made a good point.  Who's angrier?  Jonny's angry.  But Jenny's very angry.
  • Jumping up, Stretched out, Stood up, Spread out
    • The editor strongly suggested with his thick red marker that words such as "up” and "out" usually aren't necessary.  The difference between jumping up and jumping is just an extra word.
    • What I did in Microsoft Word was search the words "up" and "out" and looked at the context.  Did the meaning differ if I removed those words?  If not, then I send them to word limbo.  Otherwise I kept them.
    • If I described a motion other than the obvious, such as "jumping forward", then I use forward.  So context is going to be important when eliminating "up" or "out".
  • Amongst
    • The editor didn't like this word and asked me to use "among" instead.
  • Further vs. farther
    • Farther usually refers to distance.  "Let's walk farther in."
      • First three letters is F A R, which is far.  A good way to remember the difference.
    • Further usually refers to a greater extent.  "I don't want to discuss this further."
  • Forward vs. Foreword
    • Forward is movement.
    • Foreword is an introductory statement to a piece of written work.
  • That vs. Who
    • Use who when referring to a human.  "The man who slapped himself."
    • Use that when referring to a non-human.  "The car that slapped itself."
  • Everyday vs. Every Day
    • The word "everyday" usually refers to a common occurrence.  Like an everyday routine.
    • The words "every day" means each concurrent day.
  • Passed vs. Past
    • Passed is a verb.  "I passed the car."
    • Past refers to an earlier time or movement.  "I drove past a car."  "It's ten past twelve."
  • Almost
    • I was instructed to use almost sparingly.  Is the use direct versus indirect?
    • "I was hungry enough to eat a rock"
    • "I was so hungry I could almost eat a rock"
    • The first sentence is direct, sounds better, and communicates the feeling well.
  • Can we really get rid of "really"?
    • The editor strongly suggested with his red marker to eliminate "really".  He suggested to read the sentence with and without the word and see if the meaning changes.  If it doesn’t, terminate it.
  • Scratch vs. Itch
    • Scratch is a verb.  "I scratched my arm."
    • Itch refers to a feeling.  "My arm itched."
  • Unnecessary Words:
    • "He nodded" is better than "He nodded his head."
    • "She blinked" is better than "She blinked her floppy eyelids."
    • "Frank shrugged" is better than "Frank shrugged his broad shoulders up and down."
  • Words to look out for:
    • Lightning (when the Gods are angry) vs. Lightening (when we go on a diet that works!)
    • Wave (raise your hands in the air and wave them like you don't care) vs. Waive (your rights)
    • "Alongside" is correct.  "Along side" is not.
    • "Throughout" is correct.  "Through out" is not.
    • They're vs. their vs. there
    • Pick vs. Peak vs. Pique
    • Then vs. Than
    • Sole vs. Soul
    • Slight vs. Sleight
    • Site vs. Sight
  • I also did a word search for "ly" and eliminated as many adverbs.  Adverbs really are not necessarily good, given that they really don't add any extraordinarily deep meaning.  Really.


This is by no means a complete list any of you, including myself, should go by.  Please add your own in the comments, so we can all learn.