ACW

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Monday, 27 April 2015

Why a Bit of Polish Matters, by Lucy Mills

It doesn't matter how good the story. It doesn't matter how amazing the theme. Regardless of the strength of the plot or the depth of your characters, I may still stop reading.

Because if your book is badly edited and showing a need for a good proofread, I will struggle to get through it. When punctuation is missing or in the wrong place, it's like a hiccup inside my head. I'm no longer immersed in the story; I'm pulled back into the nuts and bolts of poor syntax, bad grammar and dysfunctional punctuation.

Polish matters. I'm talking about the basic stuff.  It's so easy, when you're proofreading something you've written and know so well, not to see the obvious. But when you're a reader, reading for the story's sake, a mistake will rise up and slap you in the face.

I'm a fast reader. The words tumble into my brain and a mistake will jar on me. The flow is interrupted. If that happens too many times, I just won't bother. It's awkward if I know the author. I can't review it, because I can barely get through it, but I don't like to say so.

Polish matters.

You might call me picky. You may not even recognise the problem. But it will lose you readers if you don't pay attention, if you neglect to re-read, re-read and oh, yes - read again.

It's not just in published works - if your blog posts are full of typos or your tweets have errant apostrophes, it says something about you as a writer, whether you like it or not.

It's so easy to click post, or update, or send these days. We've all published something online - a blog post, for example - and then realised the day after that it says 'you' where it should say 'your', or that there is a word missing, or a name misspelt. In our eagerness to say what we wish to say, in order to get it out there, to join the debate, we don't scan what we type. We just send.

There will be those who roll their eyes at me. Fair enough. You don't have to agree. Maybe it doesn't jar you; maybe it doesn't interrupt your flow; maybe you can rise above it. But there are plenty who are like me, and if you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, you have to allow for us.

Because we believe that polish matters. And when I write, I want to do the best I can. Not just in what I say but in the detail of how I say it. My idea will be easier to ingest if I present it well. For me, if I'm going to do what I do 'for the Lord', I want to give it my best. The last thing it should be is missing the mark because hey, people won't mind. 

A bit of polish is the mark of a professional. It also shows that someone cares enough to give their best.

If you know you type fast and don't check back - perhaps you need to tell yourself to take a breath and read through slowly before you click that button. It may be a bit frustrating, when you want to get it done, but people will respond to something well written. They'll be more willing to read the other things you write, or plan to write in the future.

Now I know there will be those who struggle with this, as I struggle with other things. Maybe it's an issue with dyslexia. Maybe you have difficulty typing, for whatever reason. I'm not having a go at you. But if you know it's an issue, you can put a process in place where your words are sieved by someone else - to see those things that need correcting. Find the people in your life who will give your writing the polish it needs.

I used to be the ACW Competitions' Manager. Some entries were let down by typos and punctuation errors, things that could so easily have been corrected. If they had been, the writing would have had more chance to shine.

It may take a little more time. You may think I'm being picky.

But I still say a bit of polish matters.

Image: volkspiderCreative Commons License





Lucy Mills considers herself a non-fiction writer but does write the odd novel in November. Her first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT). She's written articles for various Christian magazines and is an editor at Magnet magazine. She also writes poetry and prayers. www.lucy-mills.com


15 comments:

  1. Well said Lucy! I, too, am one of those readers who is put off by too many typos, grammatical errors, etc. Not that I'm brilliant at grammar myself mind, but it does jar me when I spot mistakes. I know that when my book is published, if there's a typo that's been missed through all the editing process, that is probably ALL I will see! This is the girl who got distracted at her own wedding when she spotted an apostrophe (or was it a comma?) in the wrong place in the order of service.... which she typed herself because she didn't trust a print company getting it right!

    A bit of polish is a good thing :)

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    1. Mandy - ha! I would have been distracted by that at my wedding too. Especially as I printed them myself :) Glad I'm not the only one!

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  2. Great post Lucy - and I totally agree. In fact, it is one of the reasons I have been put off self-publishing, as so often there isn't a budget for much editorial input. I call it a 'lack of editorial integrity', and it really grates on me – especially when I know a book could be so much better just with a little editorial guidance ;) But I'm also aware that, even when your day job is finding and correcting the typos and mistakes in others' work, that it is in your own work that you so often miss such things! Ouch...

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    1. Just replied but it disappeared! I was agreeing with you (and other things that I don't have time to retype - gah).

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  3. Hear, hear, Lucy! It grates on me most of all when I see mistakes in books from the large publishing houses. Don't they have the budget to give their manuscripts a proper proofread? As you say, we should aim for accuracy and excellence in the Lord. :-)

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  4. I too am an obsessive grammar and punctuation nerd (while being fussy about almost nothing else!) Anything that gets in the way of the story you are trying to tell has to go, so no amount of pickiness is wasted. There's a drawback to this: known as a hawk-eyed editor of exceptional severity, one tends to get a lot of requests to check over the work of others! But as Philip rightly says, it's in one's own work that mistakes can go unnoticed. A glaring mistake I missed in novel no. 2, last line of page 89 (now, thankfully, corrected) was 'bothers and sisters,' noticed not by me or by half a dozen others, but by my dyslexic daughter.

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    1. Yes, you see what you think should be there!

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  5. Yes. Absolutely. If I'm reading a story, and my reading is like a train trundling along a track, a typo can derail me and send me crashing into the undergrowth. My particular bugbear is when I get lost in dialogue. Who said what? I have to go back through the conversation saying, 'John, Jane, John, Jane...'
    Mind you, I have to admit that I've been guilty of being too quick on the blogpost 'publish' button. I will do better.
    Thanks for this, Lucy.

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one to be derailed!

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  6. I bet you checked this post a thousand times before pressing 'Send'! (Winky face.) I agree with you on 'standards', although I tend to be very forgiving about tweets and Facebook statuses and comments on my blog because I just don't think they matter as much, being more like conversation. The best typos are those on songs that get displayed on Sundays for us all to sing. We sang about the dungeon flamming with light for years at a previous church and it amused me every time.

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    1. I'm not sure I've ever read a blog post so many times! The irony would be too great...

      Song typos...ah yes. I think one of the best I've seen - or should I say, worst - is 'feel us up and send us out'.

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  7. This is so true. Those little, glaring errors make a huge difference. Great post.

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  8. This is so true. Those little, glaring errors make a huge difference. Great post.

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