When we go to a job interview, we wear our best suit, come with a list of references, and might even remember to put on deodorant. At least, we do if we want the job. When we format a manuscript, self-edit a novel, or polish a book before sending it off to an agent or editor, we strive to present it as though we are professional writers who know what we are doing. At least, we do if we want to be published. Whether a seasoned writer, or someone just starting out in the writing process, there are weaknesses we don’t always recognize in our skills. We get into ruts with grammar, formatting, or stylistic “rules” we learned early on in high school writing classes that are bad practices in professional writing.
How to Improve Writing
* Use the spell check and grammar check on your computer. No, really.
* Knowledge is power. Identify the mistakes you tend to repeat.
*Use Word’s Find and Replace feature to find your common mistakes. If you know you tend to place apostrophes incorrectly, you spell a character’s name inconsistently, or you frequently confuse words like “your” and “you’re,” search for these by pressing Control/F.
* Use Find to identify echo words, like if you use the word like for more than like one time in like a sentence.
*Look for modifiers, passive verbs like “was,” the word “that,” “just,” “almost” or semi-colons if you tend to overuse them.
*Read resources like: Grammargirl.com; Elements of Style; Eats, Shoots and Leaves; and other books, websites, or textbooks that help with grammar.
*Use Dictionary.com or Thesaurus.com.
*Read good writing. Read bad writing. Edit it. Analyze it. Critique it. Learn from it. The best way to learn something is to teach it. If you are critiquing, you are teaching. That means you are learning.
*Proofread. Edit your writing. Proofread again. And again. Put it aside and work on something else for a while. Repeat the process three more times. No, really.
*Join a critique group, have a critique partner, beta readers, make friends with English teachers— and reward English teachers handsomely with brownies. (I’m not at all biased here.)
*If you hire a copy editor/manuscript editor, ask for a free sample to see if his/her services are what you are looking for. See if the editor is a good match.
*Take classes and workshops to hone skills and learn to identify your weaknesses.
* Try this copy editor trick: skim paragraphs backward, looking for misspellings, incorrectly placed punctuation, echo words, etc.