The Joy of Red Ink
I’ve been writing for a few years now and in that time I’ve had several short stories published and as well as a couple of series and stand alone books.
At the beginning I had very little idea of how to write; I simply let the words pour out of me onto the computer screen and let my imagination take me where it would. The rules of the English language and the peculiarities of its grammar were a mystery to me. You see, we hadn’t really spent much time on it at school. I can’t actually remember what we did in those lessons apart from one teacher’s obsession with Dingbats and another’s insistence on cheese and pickle sandwiches.
I did read voraciously as a teenager, consuming everything from James Herbert and Jane Austin to Mervyn Peake and Stephen King; so though it would be fair to say I had an appreciation of the English Language and was competent enough to get a degree, I wasn’t overly familiar with its grammar.
Recently I reread the first story I ever submitted to a competition because I wanted to tell the bigger story it was a part of. I was expecting it to be a bit ropey but I was absolutely flabbergasted at how awful it was. It was shocking. I was actually embarrassed to have submitted it. Thankfully it was under another name, so it’s gone for good. Hopefully.
I shouldn’t really have been surprised it was so badly written, despite the fact my husband and I had gone through it many times, editing and correcting spelling mistakes. Despite our enthusiasm neither of us really knew what we were doing back then and our English was appalling.
Thankfully six months after writing that story I came across the Jackie Bennet Writing Bureau and a chap called Doug Watts.
At that stage, I’d already written my first novel which had come in at 356,000 words. It wasn’t brilliant and I’d asked a friend who taught English at school to read the first chapter. She’d been kind but honest so I’d put it away and when my ego was less bruised Bill, my husband, suggested I try my hand at a few short stories. I’d written about six I was quite pleased with, so began submitting them to various magasines.
Of course I didn’t get anything accepted, but I did find Doug through it.
I realised I needed help and advice from a professional, so nervously sent him the first 300 words of Shadow Of Hope. Within minutes he replied with enough positive feedback to make me realise two things. One; I could actually write a little and two; I needed a proper copy editor.
I immediately signed up for one of their mini writing courses. And sent one of my first short stories, thinking it was quite good. Um, no, it wasn’t. Doug was kind, he said there was potential in my writing, but it was evident from his words that there were more flaws then anything else in the story. Disheartened but not deterred I tackled my assignment from him with enthusiasm. That received a better critique and there was less red font indicating areas where he’d corrected or amended my grammar.
Gradually under his patient tuition and guidance I wrote a story he said was good enough to submit to one of the various women’s magasines. It wasn’t successful, but by now I had much more confidence in my writing abilities.
I wrote several short stories for women’s magasines, some of which I quite liked, but it wasn’t the genre that interested me. So when he provided me with some pictures for inspiration I responded by writing a science fiction story. He liked it and said it was very good. So, I sent it off to a web based magazine and it was published. Hooray!!
Inspired by this I asked Doug to copy edit my first novel, Shadow Of Hope. It was definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve learnt so much from him and his input has been invaluable, so much so he’s now a good friend who I trust implicitly.
He’s wise, funny, kind and incredibly patient. My English has improved to such an extent that today when he sends my work back there are whole pages clear of red ink. He promised when we first began collaborating that it would be the case, but I couldn’t ever see it ever happening and yet here we are; as usual I have to bow to his superior judgment.
Nowadays most comments are to remove unwanted words, though occasionally I see flashes of his own brilliance as a writer when he rewrites a line I’ve stuggled over but have never managed to get right. Somehow, he manages to perfectly capture the essence of what I want to say in the most eloquent way possible. I treasure those times and study what he writes marvelling at how he can be so fluent and articulate with the language.
He’s very forthcoming with praise, obviously understanding that writers, even part time ones are sensitive souls. Usually he tempers real criticism with humour which has me laughing out loud and certainly takes the sting out of the tail. As my ability has improved it’s not uncommon for him to tell me that I’ve created a well written chapter, or the dialogue was effective, and this will have me beaming from ear to ear.
Over the years he’s put up with some very trying issues. One of which was my insistence on writing women rather than woman and vice versa. Also I’d persistently write then instead of than. That one had him pulling his hair out a few times. Thankfully we’re mostly over those now though he still has to pull me up on then a few times and I’ll sometimes be too repetitive with a word in a paragraph.
Thanks to Doug, my grammar is pretty good nowadays in comparison with most people, and I can even hold my own with some members of our English department at school. Not all, I hasten to add. And he’s not seen this blog, so all mistakes are my own. (I’m listening to the Nephs by the way as I write this, so I’m a tad distracted.)
Doug and I have a system now. I write the chapter, then edit it a few times after that my husband, Bill reads it through and corrects the basic mistakes as my first reader. Once we’re both happy we send it to Doug who goes through it with a fine-tooth comb. It’s then proof read a few more times before it gets added to the final manuscript.
I trust Doug completely and over the last few years I’ve only not heeded his advice four times and most of those were only suggestions. The rest of the time I bow to his better judgement. He knows so much more about writing, then I do, so if I want my work to be the best it can be, then I need to follow his advice.
Normally the work I have to do on a short story or chapter isn’t too onerous, and rarely needs any major rewriting but occasionally I’ll need to rephrase something or explain an event or scene in more detail.
I’ve also yet to come across an area he doesn’t know about. He even corrects me on Metallica songs. Latin, Ancient History, geography and language I can understand but modern rock? The man is a walking encyclopaedia.
I thrive on praise and encouragement, so I’ve been incredibly lucky to find this kind, funny and clever man. I wouldn’t have written as much as I have without him or even continued writing if I hadn’t met him.
There’s no question my writing has improved since I’ve been working with him. This was shown in no uncertain terms when I went back to that first ever short story. I couldn’t salvage even a quarter of what I’d written in it so I had to read the paragraph or line of dialogue first then completely rewrite it again.
As it turns out the story was okay in itself if a little clunky, so I rewrote it and it’s now part of Helen’s story in Fusion, Book One of the Guardians Series.
I will confess that my stomach still lurches every time his names pops up into my inbox. I want to please him and make him proud as any student would. So I always worry if he liked it or not.
So my advice to budding writers out there is to get a good copyeditor.
No one likes to be given a critique, but it’s invaluable if you want to learn and progress. So it’s crucial that you find a copy editor you like and can work with.
It’s also imperative that you can trust them implicitly. They can make or break your confidence and if you let them they could be the key to your talent and future as a writer.
His details are below. As I said, he has not seen this, ill no ef ur wen he dus as he wull invest i corret this lest bet?