Your Toolbox

You’re a writer. What do you use? Words.

Words are your most frequently used tool. Make friends with them. Caress them. Fondle them. Throw them against the wall. Whatever you do, use them. Get a dictionary. Make sure you’re using the right one. I recommend Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Would you build a brick wall and mistakenly use one brick made of styrofoam? Of course not! So don’t do it with your writing. Make sure each word is solid and well placed.

By the time I see a manuscript, this should be a no-brainer. Sure, mistakes happen occasionally, a word slips through revisions and past beta readers. But if you’re paying an editor to replace your malapropisms, you need to go back to square one and work on your writing skills. If you’re submitting your manuscripts to small presses full of these, work on your skills. If they’re paying their editors to replace your malapropisms, they’re wasting their editing dollars. You owe it to yourself as a writer to learn your craft.

Repeat after me: Every story you write should be crafted better than the last.

What did you learn from the last story you wrote? Did you eliminate your bad habit of ending sentences with a comma or did your main character have greater depth? Have you figured out the art of foreshadowing or did you learn that ‘he said’ is not a sentence in its own right? Each one is a step in the right direction.

Back to your toolbox. Words. How do you learn to use words? You should have these resources at hand when you write:

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus

It doesn’t matter to me if they’re books on your desk or websites you can access. What matters is when you stumble, you can look it up. How do you know if you’re stumbling? The word won’t quite sound right in that context. Does an artist fasten a piece of art? Maybe to the wall, but not when he’s creating it. He would fashion it. Can you prompt a chair against the wall? No, but you can prop it against the wall.

These tools also come in handy for spelling, avoiding repetitive usage of the same word, and so on. It may be awkward at first, but once you get accustomed to checking your resources, you’ll find them extremely helpful. Repetition of word usage seems to go in waves, for example. I’ll see an author get a word stuck in their head, breathed, for example, and it will pop up repeatedly for a few pages. She breathed, he breathed, everyone is so busy breathing you wonder if they ever took a breath before.

I do get manuscripts with these kinds of issues in them from time to time. I correct them gently and go on. It’s part of my job. The author will either improve or not, that’s their decision. If I can help you improve before I see your manuscript, however, that’s even better. I want you to grow as a writer. I want you to be successful.

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