Sanding Down Your Writing: Seven Mistakes to Avoid

I’m lucky to have a wonderful line editor who goes over my revised manuscripts with a fine- toothed comb. No detail, however small, escapes her notice. She calls this process “sanding it down.” That is, getting rid of all the little rough patches that impede the flow of the words and the narrative.  She is worth her weight in gold.

As a former teacher and English major, I’ve always been attuned to mistakes in grammar, spelling, and usage, but in working with Anne over the course of three novels in less than 2 years, I’ve become even more attuned to the misplaced modifier, the  misspelled or misused word, the misplaced apostrophe. Here are a few common errors I’ve noticed recently in published books, in blog posts, in personal emails. Be aware of these as you are sanding down your writing. Your editors and your readers will appreciate your attention to detail.

Elusive, an adjective  meaning hard to identify or pin down. Hard to capture.  The scientists were tracking an elusive species of butterfly.  It is not spelled “illusive.”

Hear, hear. In earlier times, this expression was used to indicate agreement with a statement.  When Daniel Webster finished his impassioned speech, the others in the room pounded their canes on the floor and shouted,” Hear, hear!”     Not here, here.

Affect vs. Effect. Affect is a verb.  The mayor  had little power to affect the outcome of the meeting. Not “effect” which is most often a noun.  The room was decorated to great effect.  But also note  that effect can sometimes act as a verb, as in  The chairman planned to effect the changes immediately.

Irregardless is a nonstandard form of the correct word regardless. Susan decided to make the trip, regardless of the outcome. Not  “irregardless of the outcome.”

It remains to be seen. This is a useless sentence. Anything which has not yet happened will be seen in the future.

There/They’re/Their. I saw a tee shirt the other day with these three words printed on it and below them, this message:  They are not the same.  Most native English speakers know that  “there” refers to a specific place, as in “I’ll see you there.” They’re is a contraction of  They are, as in Susan and Mary are not here yet; they’re running late. Their is a plural possessive.  The Smiths are having their house painted.  Yet, last week, I got an email containing the incorrect use of their.

Your vs You’re. Your refers to something that belongs to you. As in here is your pen. You’re is the contracted form of you are. As in You’re late.  In an email this week, the writer commented:  Your one of my favorite authors.

Seek and destroy such errors before you submit your work to an editor or agent.  Such mistakes mark you as an amateur, a careless writer, or an undereducated one. Checking for, and correcting grammar and spelling mistakes is not as much fun as creating characters or figuring out plot twists. But when you are trying to sell your work, everything counts, everything matters.




4 thoughts on “Sanding Down Your Writing: Seven Mistakes to Avoid

    1. dorothy Post author

      Jessica, thanks for checking in at Writers Caffeine. You’re so right. Getting a book ready for publication is a ton of work, but I love it!!

  1. Cathy Richmond

    Great list, Dorothy. I’m blessed to have two critique group members who read my manuscript before it’s sent to the publisher. They’re terrific at catching punctuation and grammar errors. Wish I could catch them myself, but I’m too distracted by the story.

    1. dorothy Post author

      I’m the same way! Creative process is totally consuming and so different from the editorial side of writing a book. I’ve never had a critique group. I read my ms aloud when I think I ‘m finished and that helps me catch things that might have otherwise slipped through.

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