Editing your life story can be an arduous task. Is it necessary? Most people would say yes. Some however say no. I have had life stories given to me to put into book form that are original to say the least and definitely full of character. I have read people’s self published life stories donated to public libraries to preserve local historical information that would have benefited from a quick proofread.
No doubt, these people consider the story and the history of these books the prime aim and mission accomplished. In business, perfect documentation is part of the communication process that can define the standard, quality and ultimate success of a business.
In literary circles, a manuscript was once proofread up to seven times before going to print in an effort to produce a perfect copy. These days, it is common and accepted to find spelling and grammatical errors in a published book even to the point of the syntax of the sentence being questionable. Why! Short answer – cost. Proofreading and copyediting are expensive. They are time consuming and require concentration (as well as knowledge of the changing world of grammar). There are a few online grammar programs that help a little but none as wonderful as a great dedicated line-by-line proofreader.
You may be surprised to know that there are quite a few grammar Nazis in the community that just love to find errors and flaunt their red pen and English grammar knowledge. If you have access to one of these talented people, share that choice bottle of red you have hidden for a rainy day, and get them to edit your life story. It will make a difference.
Edit your life story – some basic strategies
Otherwise, here are a few basic strategies to help you edit your own work.
- Know that it is difficult to spot your own errors – grammar and spelling. Your mind will override your eyes every time. To overcome this:
- Put the work aside for as long as possible – a few days minimum but a few weeks better.
- Read your work out loud or get someone else to read it to you.
- Get a plain sheet of white paper and use it like a ruler, under each sentence.
- If the eyes are still racing ahead, get two sheets of paper and treat the eyes to one word at a time.
- Know that reading accurately from the computer is tricky work for the eyes and the brain.
- Print out as much as possible and sit down quietly ready for warfare.
- Know that every word you write is not gospel.
- Sometimes the word you write second after the first word has been deleted is better.
- Most good writers will write, delete, rewrite, delete and maybe write again.
- Your draft is your draft – use it like a confessional
- Use language that is concrete and specific rather than generic. ‘…remove the scaffolding of my life and crack open the secret river that has flowed through my days’ is far more emotional and engaging than ‘write my memoirs’.
- Know that there are absolute no-nos.
- Avoid excessive adverbs and adjectives – they are not cool (although I don’t mind them occasionally).
- Blocks of bold and italics are difficult to read and awkward to the reader.
- One font type and size is enough for any document.
- Avoid using a font suitable for print documents on an e-book and vice versa. (Serif typeface such as Times New Roman is commonly used for printed work and sans serif typeface such as Arial common for online work).
- Don’t under any circumstance plagiarise or copy someone else’s work. If you absolutely must have their morsel of knowledge, reference it.
- Know that Dictionaries and Grammar online supports are your friend.
- Dictionaries are the ultimate guardians of words. Use a dictionary of your country of origin. In other words, if in Rome, do as the Romans do. If in Australian, use an Australian dictionary. The reason for this is that Australian language fits somewhere between U.S. and U.K. and sometimes, we are guilty of making up our own words. “Are you wearing your cossies, swimmers or togs to the beach tomorrow?”
- Language, both spelling and grammar, is not static. Both change along with society’s procession through the centuries. Did you know only one space after a full stop is modern practice?
- Don’t trust your brain – you may think you know how to spell a word, but you may not. Some words and meanings are confusing. I always get chose and choose mixed up, and lose and loose. Other people can’t recall whether it is there or their and others confuse their draws and drawers. Don’t even start with to or too.
- Always think twice or double check those apostrophes. Little as they are, they are the most confusing of all, and their presence (or presents) or absence completely changes context. Which one do you think is correct. ‘Those smelling things are my brother’s”. “Those smelling things are my brothers”. I guess it depends on your meaning and what you think of your brother or brothers.
- Macquarie Dictionary online (www.macquariedictionary.com.au) and Online Grammar (www.onlinegrammar.com.au) are both helpful.
There are more writing and grammar hints on www.thewritingshed.com.au. Nip across and have a peek.
To edit your life story is time consuming but well worth the effort for that final product.