Stage II: Self-Editing
(1 of 3)

It is rare to open a book written by even the most famous authors, published by the highest profile houses, without finding somewhere in those four-hundred or so pages, a typo. Bona fide typos occur, though we strive for elusive perfection.

However, it's unlikely you'll find a grammatical error or wrong use of a word—lay versus lie, for example. If you want to run with the big dogs, you've gotta pick tall trees. Learn your craft and seek excellence.

To recapitulate:

The days are gone when a publisher's editor accepts a stack of hand-written pages, corrects every spelling and grammatical offense, enhances word usage, decides which characters to keep or delete, reorders scenes so the story flows, and digests it all into a contemporary classic.

Nowadays, neither agent nor publisher will accept a manuscript unless the first paragraphs demonstrate that a major effort was made toward publishability before they received it.

As they read passed those perfect opening lines, they continue looking for reasons to reject the work; the promise of their first impression must be maintained to the final page.

Spelling, Punctuation, & Grammar

Absolutely foundational to publication is your adherence to the most basic rules of the language.

MSWord, and most other processors, have solid spell checkers. They'll also catch egregious errors of grammar and punctuation. MSWord underlines misspelled words in red—including unfamiliar proper nouns. Possible grammatical and punctuation issues are underscored in blue. Familiarize yourself with your program's alert flags.

The following examples are shown in MSWord, Office 365, Windows 10, updated 2021. Earlier versions of MSWord look different, but the basic functionality, labels, steps, and descriptors are the same.

The first step of this proverbial longest journey is to allow your tools to do everything they can. Scroll through the document with care to spot the spelling and grammatical errors the software has flagged.

Right-click on the underlined word to display the pull-down.

Properly spelled words not part of the internal dictionary of your word processor will be flagged as misspelled. This includes proper names. Verify their spelling externally and add to your program's dictionary.

With regard to names, you'll get John Smith correct every time, but more exotic spellings and long names are opportunities for errors. By adding names to the dictionary, they are protected.

You'll want to add colloquialisms to your dictionary such as musta, gonna, shoulda and other words you commonly use in dialog as these will be flagged as misspelled (they are) and will slow down the process.

Alternatively, MSWord has an Ignore All function that removes the flag without adding to the dictionary.

Word Usage

Discussion of Word Frequency on
next page, Stage II - Self-Editing page 2

There are a number of common Word Usage issues that plague writers. Each is discussed on this consolidated page which can be bookmarked and used as reference. It is important to familiarize yourself with these items.

Closely related words can be genuinely confused or absentmindedly mistyped:
        Lay versus Lie
        Affect versus Effect
        Less versus Fewer
        Number versus Amount
        Passed versus Past
        Could have versus Could of

Take one word-pair at a time. Use the Find function (just Find without Replace), locate every occurance of the word lay, to start.

In the newer version of MSWord, a Navigation panel will appear on the left margin of the display. Click on each occurance and review lay for proper tense and usage.

Older versons of MSWord highlight offer a dialog box. Enter the word to find (1); click on Find Next (2). The page on which the word appears will be displayed and the word highlighted. Verify the word, then click on the Find Next button to display the next occurance. Rinse, lather, repeat.

  • Examine every use of lay and determine if it is used properly. Should it be lie or laid? Review the rules at Grammar and Punctuation (opens in new window).
  • Make corrections as necessary and continue to the next occurance of the word lay.
  • Similarly, find lie, laid, lying, laying, laid, and lain and verify they are used properly.
It is tedious, but necessary. It's unlikely laid has been used as a verb very often and lain may not appear at all, so this process is not as threatening as it might appear at first.

Work the rest of the list: Affect/Effect, et. al. Candidly, unless you use these words unusually often, you could review through them all—presuming you understand the rules for each—in just a few hours, or less, and then it's done.

You may have a confusing word-pair of your own. Contact Us and we'll add it to the list.

Word Frequency

Discussion on
next page, Stage II - Self-Editing page 2

Intermezzo I
Stage II - Self-Editing page 2
How to Produce a Novel
Stage I: First Draft
  Stage I, page 2
  Stage I, page 3
Writing Intermezzo I
  Preparation for Self-Editing
Stage II: Self-Editing
  Stage II, page 2
  Stage II, page 3
Stage III: Feedback/Review
Stage IV: Publishing
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