Ten tips to write better

By which I mean writing that doesn’t make an editor wince.

Let me provide the context to this. Every now and then, I am approached by a wannabe writer who wants me to have a look at their manuscript and give my feedback. Very rarely (and what a sad reflection this is on Indian Writing in English), I find something that is a delight to read, even in its unpolished, unedited form. More often than not, what I receive is riddled with errors. Grammatical errors, factual errors, errors of everything from casing to punctuation.

When I have suggested, as part of feedback, that the manuscript be subjected to a series of self-reviews and (this is something not many Indians seem to be keen on) that an editor be  hired to clean up the manuscript, the usual reaction is, “But won’t my publishers do the editing?”

And my answer to that is, Of course they will. If they decide to take your manuscript in the sorry state it’s in (I word that rather more tactfully). Because editors in publishing houses are so snowed under with work, if they receive a manuscript that’s yelling, “You’ll have to do a lot of editing with me!”—no, unless the story is exceptionally compelling, they’re not going to take it on. What you’ll get is a reject note.

So, on to the list. Ten tips to make your writing easier for an editor to read and appreciate.

Good writing

Read. The simplest and most basic of them all. Unless you read, you won’t know a good book from a bad one. These days, what with the Internet, it’s become a lot easier to find out which books are considered good. Not all of them will be good, not all of them will be to your liking, but as you read, you’ll imbibe lessons on what makes a book readable. Not just the story (if it is fiction or creative non-fiction), but the style of writing. The number of words used in a sentence. The words used. The words not used. I have never come across a really good writer who wasn’t also an avid reader. 

Books

Do not fall in love with your own writing. In 2003, I began working with NIIT as an instructional designer. As part of our training, one of the most important lessons we were taught was this: Do not fall in love with your own writing. It’s an easy trap to fall into: most of us wouldn’t be writing if we didn’t think we could write, so it’s obvious that the next step is to think we write so well that there aren’t any flaws in our writing.

Which, sadly, is a recipe for disaster. It makes for a frustrating relationship with your editor, because every edit cycle becomes a question of who will give way first. Eventually, unless your story is so compelling that a publisher is absolutely certain it’s bestseller or award material, your editor is going to give up. And chances are, they won’t want to work with you again.

Subject your work to self-edits. I typically edit anything I write at least thrice. That is for novels. For shorter works, like short stories, the number of self-edit parses can be anything from six to ten, occasionally more, before I’m satisfied that I can submit it. The fact is, every time I go back to my work, I find ways to polish it further.

My way of doing this is to finish writing my manuscript, set it aside for a while (if it’s a novel, even for a few months), and then return to it. The errors, the things that could be better, leap out at me when I look at it with fresh eyes. I use these parses to tighten up the writing, to eliminate unnecessary words, to shorten rambling descriptions, to bring further coherence into the writing—it may be all of these, it may be one. But no work of mine, not even a book review to be posted on Goodreads, ever gets published without my having read and re-read it a couple of times. 

Editing

And now, some more specific tips. 

Watch your punctuation. Nearly all punctuation marks—commas, periods (or full stops, call them what you will), hyphens, exclamation marks, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, etc—are preceded by the previous character (without a space between the character and the punctuation), and are succeeded by a space before the next character.

Read that sentence again, and this one, for examples of what I mean.

Note, too, that that rule may not apply to some punctuation marks, such as m-dashes or n-dashes, which often come under a specific style guide followed by a publisher. Whatever style you adopt for these in your manuscript, make sure you follow them consistently throughout.

Another important note of caution: be very, very sparing with exclamation marks. Amateur writers seem to think exclamation marks help emphasize your point. They don’t. They just irritate the discerning reader. Exclamation marks are usually only appropriate in dialogue, and then too when judiciously used.

(Recommended: Lynne Truss’s brilliant book on punctuation, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—this one is worth reading if you want to make sure your punctuation doesn’t make an editor wince).

Be consistent. Not just in punctuation, but in other aspects of writing too, such as casing, spelling, voice and tense. I’ve seen too many pieces of writing start off with colour and honour and organise, and then veer away into color and honor and organize. I’ve seen people switch inexplicably from past tense to present to past again, all in the course of one paragraph. I’ve seen random capitalization (words, for no rhyme or reason, being written in title case), and so on on. This reeks of carelessness.

Go easy on the adverbs. Most good writers say you should keep adverbs completely out of your writing. I don’t agree; my contention is that adverbs have their place, even in good writing—but they must be used with extreme discretion. One in about eight or ten sentences is forgivable. Also, make sure you use the adverb in its correct sense: ‘Her face was luminously radiant’ is contrived and repetitive, because ‘luminous’ and ‘radiant’ mean pretty much the same thing.

Think twice before using words you’re unfamiliar with. A couple of years ago, a debutant writer sent me his book for review. It turned out to be a fairly predictable college campus story; what made it abysmal was the sheer ridiculousness of so many of the words he’d used. A party, for instance, was described variously as a corroboree and a wassail (both of which are very specific types of gathering; these words cannot be applied arbitrarily to any party, especially in a non-Australian setting). I guessed what this was: a case of somebody wanting to show off his vocabulary, and picking words out of a thesaurus to help him find synonyms. The result was a painful, often unintentionally hilarious book.

So, don’t use words that you aren’t familiar with. They may turn out to have connotations you are unaware of, or they may simply read wrong.

Focused

Use simple words. The author I mentioned in the previous point also made another major mistake when writing: he thought that using ‘complicated language’ would make his book better (he actually admitted this to me in a conversation after I’d published my review of his book). Nobody in his book ever ‘talked’; they ‘confabulated’. ‘Then’ was replaced by ‘anon’ (this book wasn’t a historical), and nobody ever ‘heard’ anything; they ‘discerned audibly’.

Simple language is nothing to be ashamed of; on the contrary, it makes a book far more readable than something filled with words you’ve culled out of a dictionary or a thesaurus. Try reading some of the world’s best writers (and no, I do not necessarily mean bestsellers), and you’ll see that their greatness lies not so much in using big, fancy words but in using simple words well.

Weed out repetitions. Most of us tend to have some stock phrases or pet words that we use again and again (mine, when I’m writing non-fiction, include obviously, of course, and for instance). A lot of writers also have a habit of trying to explain things further by using additional adjectives and adverbs (as an example: ‘frozen icicle’, which I came across in a recent manuscript sent to me for review. It just needs a little reflection to realize that an icicle is always frozen; if it’s melted, it’s not an icicle any more).

Get rid of repetitions; they put off readers.

Use spellcheck, efficiently. Everybody—or everybody who knows anything about writing and uses a word processor—emphasizes the importance of using spellcheck. Running a grammar and spelling check should be an essential part of work on a manuscript, but it must be done intelligently. For example, don’t arbitrarily accept all changes your spellchecker suggests: many of these do not cater to some writing styles, and they do not, of course, take into consideration a lot of non-English words. Make your task easier as you proceed by checking each change the spellcheck suggests, and then—if there are words you use often—adding them to your spellcheck dictionary. As an example, I have Muzaffar, baoli, haveli, and other words that occur frequently in my writing added to my spellcheck dictionary, so these don’t show up as errors when I run a spellcheck.

Work on

Naturally, this isn’t all, because submitting a clean, well-edited manuscript doesn’t guarantee that it will get published. Lots of other things matter—the story (and that can actually refer to non-fiction too; how well you put your point across); coherence, writing style, characterization, your ability to draw your reader in.

I’ll write about those, and more, in a separate post. So watch this space.

Advertisements

80 thoughts on “Ten tips to write better

  1. I always struggle with active and passive form of sentences. Since I write on my travel experiences I tend to write in passive form which I find is not very acceptable form. This was one worthy read with valuable points.

    • Yes, that’s another common error. But if you’ve noticed it in your own writing, that’s half the battle won, I think – it’s when people don’t even know what they’re doing wrong (or refuse to admit that they could be wrong) that the problems start.

  2. Very useful. Many people think using complicated words is good writing. Agree with these words:
    “Try reading some of the world’s best writers (and no, I do not necessarily mean bestsellers), and you’ll see that their greatness lies not so much in using big, fancy words but in using simple words well.”

    • Thank you. Whenever anybody raises the ‘complicated language versus simple’ topic with me, I point to two of my favourite Indian authors as examples of people who use very simple language, beautifully: Ruskin Bond and RK Narayan. It’s their style, the compelling nature of their stories, the way they use words, that make the writings of these men so endearing. Not complicated language.

  3. A much-needed post, Madhu, and not just for wannabe writers. This is equally important for anyone who wants to be a good editor as well. At the beginning of the year, I put together a template for the newbies at work. Some of them didn’t know the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, and I had a tough time breaking the habit.

    • Thank you, Anu!

      Some of them didn’t know the difference between a comma and a semi-colon

      You know what prompted this post? The latest manuscript which came my way for feedback. The author is a PhD in English. Didn’t know the difference between it’s and its, flaunt and flout, and didn’t know that you don’t refer to someone who’s been entombed after rubbing with incense and other stuff (though I hadn’t thought they rubbed corpses with incense…) as ‘incensed‘.

      Sigh. And this is a PhD.

      • I laughed out loud at that but it’s really really sad. Today I read a “serious” magazine article whose author mixed but things like “few people” with “a few people”.
        I am thinking of all the red lines in my schoolwork if we made a even a small mistake!

  4. A very useful post indeed. I am neither a writer nor I want to be, but your tips can be so useful in everyday writings. My own mistakes leaped out at me that I have made in comments. Thanks for some great suggestions I do hope the writers amongst your blog readers take notice.

    • Thank you, Neeru! Yes, these are very common errors in writing of all types – I’ve seen them in e-mails, in newspaper and magazine articles, in ads – just about everywhere.

  5. Madhu,
    Obviously you have addressed your article to aspiring writers, but it is also useful for someone like me who ‘writes’ something which others read. I would add another tip: “Have another person read what you have written”. It is amazing how even after reading a number of times we fail to notice some typos in our draft (which would escape spellcheck, too, if the mistake is also a word in English).

    In the sector I work, capitalitis is endemic. I spend a good deal of my time correcting capital case to small. On -ise/-ize, colour/color, now we have a whole generation which is not even aware what the issue is about. I am not sure if choosing the option “English (UK)” in the word processor works.

    You have mentioned “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” – a very amusing book which divides the world between comma-vigilantes and comma-apostates. There seems to be a huge middle ground on “commas” – everything goes as long as you don’t eat, shoot and leave, after eating shoots and leaves. I don’t know whether you plan to write on “commas”; I find a great deal of variation in its use or lack of it in current writings.

    How are you going to address the problem of the younger generation of Twitter, abbreviations and emoticons?
    AK

    • AK, thank you so much for that long and insightful comment. Yes, commas are a whole different story (and we’re not even talking about the Oxford comma, around which reams could be written) – I don’t think I’m qualified enough to write about all of that.

      Talking about -ise and-ize, yes, it’s no longer a strictly UK English/American English thing. For instance, the publishers I’ve worked with, while they insist on UK English for the manuscript, want -ize endings. I’ve ended up training myself to use that too, so it’s become generic across all my writings.

      The world of Twitter, abbreviations and emoticons (and, long before this, SMS language)… I’d rather not think about it. I do admit to using emoticons, though not in every other sentence – but as for cud instead of could, b4 for before, and congos instead of congratulations: all of these make me wonder: how much time are these people saving by not typing in those couple of extra characters? (And especially when most phones and word processing programmes these days are fairly good at predictive text).

      • Ah, Madhu, I could tell you why they use ‘-ize’ even in English (UK). :) Thanks to Inspector Morse, I learnt that the upper-class (ergo, ‘right’ way, according to the elitist Morse) way of writing any ‘ise/ize’ word is to use ‘ize’,for certain words like ‘realize’, ‘organize’, etc. But for other verbs, they follow the ‘ise’ pattern, thereby making followers pluck their hair out one by one in frustration. It’s called the ‘Oxford Spelling’ and, of course, Morse went to Oxford. :) Here’s the list:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Manual_of_Style/Spelling/Words_ending_with_%22-ise%22_or_%22-ize%22

        Now, could you write a manual on the correct use of the single and double quote, and the use of punctuation inside or outside the double quotes? I’m spending more time these days trying to teach my team basic grammar, than in actually editing something. It doesn’t help that some of our clients use British English, where the placement of the punctuation depends on the context, and others use American English, where the punctuation is always inside the quotes, irrespective of context. It’s awful!

        As for plain commas, not the Oxford one, which one of my senior colleagues abhors, I think I’ll have to write a treatise on its proper usage. Why don’t they teach kids the rules of grammar anymore? How can you break rules with impunity (as they do) if you don’t know the rules in the first place?

          • I apologize to jump in, not to answer ( that is for Madhu / Anu ) rather just to comment.
            This is one time (spellings only) when I truly appreciate our Hindi spelling system where variations are few and if you know the rules, you cannot go wrong in spellings.

            • No need to apologize, Neeru. :-)

              And yes, I agree: a completely phonetic language like Hindi or – if it’s written with the vowel forms (the maatras, so to say) included, Urdu – is so much easier than English. The three levels of formality, and the fact that every noun has a gender, does cause problems if you’re learning the language, but still.

          • Goodness, not me! Anu, perhaps, if she’s keen and has the time. I have, in any case, forgotten half the rules of grammar I once knew. Or, perhaps, I remember, but they’ve become so much a part of my writing, that I don’t even recall any more why something is the way it is.

          • Michael Swan & Catherine Walter “Use of English” was written a while ago but I world still recommend it.
            Although your PhD mentioned in the earlier reply might still not get it but one can always hope!

            • I’ve never come across that one… I remember, back in school, Wren and Martin used to be the standard grammar reference book. And, actually, I think if you read a lot (of good stuff) and pay attention, a lot of the rules of grammar become a part of you – you don’t stop to think why this is correct, and that isn’t.

              • Wren & Martin was the standard in my school too! When teaching English, Swan & Walter is very useful for foreign learners trying to differentiate between different options of grammar and vocabulary. Their Practical English Usage would be a great addition to current Indian journalists & writers, now that Wren & Martin no longer seems to be drilled into their heads.

                • I wonder what happened to Wren & Martin… it used to be one of those standard books for so many years. My mother remembered using it in her school days, and of course so did my sister and I.

                  • Wren & Martin was expressly written for India (children of British Officers there). From my experience, our contemporaries in the UK had ditched Wren & Martin style grammar books long before us. My fellow students on my first TEFL course would have trouble labelling parts of a sentence like we did, or identifying clauses – their teaching approach had shifted to “functional language”.
                    Whereas English language students from Europe who were used to studying their own languages- grammar in a more traditional way would demand to know the equivalent in English.

                    • Yes, I distinctly remember Wren & Martin as seeming quite outdated, even back when I was in school. I personally didn’t refer to it much. To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to label parts of a sentence, either. I could, when I was in school (when I was required to), but no longer.

        • Thank you for explaining that about the -ize ending, Anu! I hadn’t known that.

          “It doesn’t help that some of our clients use British English, where the placement of the punctuation depends on the context, and others use American English,

          Oh, I can empathize with that! When I worked at NIIT, we had clients from all across the globe – British, American, Indian, and others who followed their very own style (and were very strict about it, too!) We sometimes had to brief a team all over again every time a new project was started, And with most of the content writers being fairly young people who (I’m echoing you here) didn’t seem to have been taught grammar in school – it was very difficult. Half of them would continue to use the style they were most used to rather than what the style guide specified.

  6. I must thank Percy Wadiwala for directing me to this wonderful piece of writing on writing. I’m no ‘great-gun’, but I can tell a good story. Since I learned more abuses in school than English prose, I write in a language one can understand without using a dictionary (Thank God M J Akbar doesn’t write fiction).
    Believe me, I read and edit my stories a hundred times, and even then I find enough room to polish the damn thing further. (Even after they are published, by the way).
    These ten points are gems every writer should follow, or perish in the world of literature. What is appalling is that there exists a huge market for a lot of trash–the so-called ‘Best-sellers’–in a dreadful language called ‘Indian English’ dished out by established publishers of repute. The fact is, crap sells, while some good books gather dust in warehouses. (My “Lovers’ Rock” by Rupa is one of them).
    I’m ordering one of yours straightaway. I wonder if you would consider reviewing my book if you have the time. I would be delighted to send you a copy.
    Warm regards.
    Ravi Bedi

    • “(Even after they are published, by the way).

      I rarely read my work after it’s been published, but yes, every now and then, if I do, I still find something that makes me cringe.

      I agree, too, about the crap selling while the good books gather dust in warehouses. Mine are among those mouldering away, so – yes! The problem is that more than half the readers in India wouldn’t know good English if it hit them in the face, and are more interested in stories (not necessarily good stories, but stories which echo their own lives) than anything else.

      I shall pass up the offer of a copy of your book for now, much as I’d have liked one – I am just too snowed under with work (and have too many unread books lying around waiting to be read). Thank you, and good luck with your writing!

  7. Oh my God, ma’am. You used my book as a Case Study on how not to write a book. Lol. But I don’t mind at all, as I’ve been doing the same. Requesting readers not to read my first book lest they form a negative impression and never dare to read me again. I actually felt a strange pride to find my book’s references in your post. It means that it did create an impact on you that you still remember it. Anyway, I have moved on a long way since FLAKE. But it has all been because of you. Your review albeit harsh (I did experience a few sleepless nights after that) was a great eye-opener. Because not only did you review, you also corrected. You shared with me most of the pointers that you have mentioned in this post without hesitation, and it really helped me improve. I began reading good authors like R.K.Narayan, Khaled Hosseini, Murakami, and then I understood the importance of simplicity. Poetic simplicity vs flowery. I choose flowery. Maybe any other arrogant writer might have taken your review otherwise (there are shining examples of bestselling Indian commercial authors who never improve and keep dishing out low grade books and getting 1-star reviews, the only difference being they market it well by investing huge sums of money on advertising to ensure the book’s success), but I have an ingrained quality in life of always looking back, analyzing, and trying to see if I have made a mistake. I had made a mistake, I realized it, and I worked upon it, so much so that one day I met an author in Twitter and he sent me sample chapters of his book. I thought I was looking at a mirror as I could see that he had committed the exact mistakes like me – big words, too many adverbs, etc.. I guided him, just as you had in my case, and told him to make the changes, come what may. He did; he got published; and now he is on the verge of becoming a bestselling author. I’m writing my second book (second draft self-edit going on). Hopefully, even I will get published by a good traditional publisher someday. I really appreciate the fact that you are selflessly distributing tips to emerging authors via your blog and also on Goodreads. All the best with your great initiative. :)

    • I hadn’t mentioned your name, or your book’s, Pankaj, so nobody would’ve known it was you. ;-) But I’m glad that – even if it was painful, and kept you up nights – my review proved to be useful in some way. One always makes mistakes as one goes through life, and learning from those mistakes is what maturing is all about, isn’t it?

      I think, in that sense, the traditional publishing route works well, because the very presence of an editor means that at least one more pair of eyes is looking at your manuscript. And that helps, even for the best of writers. I remember, when I wrote my first book, the editor at my literary agency discussed it with me when she’d finished reading it, and gave me a very important and insightful glimpse into my own writing: she said that I kept shifting perspective too much, including shifting it so that the point of view (POV) was of some completely irrelevant characters, at times. “Make it one POV,”, she said. “Muzaffar Jang’s POV, nobody else’s.” And I’ve seen that it made an appreciable difference to the readability of my book. :-)

      All the very best for your next book!

      • I know, ma’am, you hadn’t mentioned my name or the book’s name at all. Its absolutely alright. I feel the maturity inside me as an author, but still I have a long way to go. I’m improving with every good book I read. Chitra Banerjee Divakurani has also been a great influence (Sister of My Heart). Yes, I’ve done my homework this time. I was also guilty of multiple POV’s in a single page in my second book, but I researched and changed it to only 3 POV’s in my 95k word novel. I’ve eliminated head hopping entirely, and even I feel that the readability has improved a lot. Yes, ma’am, its a dream to be published by a traditional publisher. Last time I wanted my book to be a commercial bestseller, but now I don’t mind if only 500 people read it. But the book should have literary quality, that’s more important. I want reputation more than sales. If sales happen it’s okay, if not also it’s fine. Thank you so much for your good wishes. :)

    • Madhu, I couldn’t help observing that this Pankaj Giri fellow seems to be quite a pain. But I am impressed that thanks to your tips he is on way to becoming a great writer. 😀😀 AK

      Sent from my iPad

      >

  8. Pretty well put. Very simple and straight from the heart. If one more reason was needed to like you, I got one today. I do love “Eats, shoots and leaves”. ( By the way should it be one more reason were needed? )

    The pain one has to undergo to do all the redrafts and my tendency to ramble on and some would mean I would take the germ (keeda!) of a novel which I have inside to the crematorium or more preferably a medical college.

    • Thank you!

      I have a tendency to ramble on, as well. When I write short stories, I often end up having to lop off about a quarter of the story in all my self-edit parses because I find I’ve just gone on and on about something.

      “( By the way should it be one more reason were needed? )

      Was isn’t incorrect (from what I know), but were makes you sound more posh. ;-)

      • Was isn’t incorrect (from what I know), but were makes you sound more posh. ;-)
        I didn’t know it was posh, I thought it was more show offy ( there I go again).
        While on the subject who decides what is allowed and what is not like that bard for instance he went on making up words Bertie , or some other member of Drones club would have us believe.
        Yes , PGW is another valid excuse for not venturing into writing. Plum, it seems would stick up early drafts of his work in progress on the walls of his room from three feet up and keep correcting them till the corrected versions could onlybe stuck up above the eye level. By that time he was confident that the manuscript was ready to be sent to the publisher ( he might have been kidding for all we know) but that made me think and I am still thinking……

        • Wow, I hadn’t known that about PGW! But it’s understandable – it happens so often that while reading one of his books, I think, “How did he think up something so brilliant?” It could be just a turn of phrase, or a plot so convoluted but so meticulously precise in its twists and turns… he’s a master, and I can well believe the effort that went into his writing. I could never be able to summon up the perseverance or the creativity, let alone anything else, to do anything near his work.

  9. Hey Madhulika,

    It’s the first time I’ve read your blog; it’s great! I agree with all your tips. They’re helpful.

    I think, one thing which needs to be mentioned is that when we start as writers, we’re vulnerable. Most of us aren’t familiar with our art but we learn as time passes.

    We feel awful about ourselves but need to go on somehow. In the end, all our tiny efforts pay off. The only way I’ve found to improve myself as a writer is to focus on gradual growth instead of trying to be a master.

    So what matters in the long run is giving ourselves the freedom of being imperfect. Eventually, everything gets better.

    No one remains a novice forever.

    • “No one remains a novice forever.

      I would disagree with this. I can think of several names from IWE that are living examples that writers can not only remain novices forever, they can even be runaway hits and still write as awfully as they did with their first books.

      Also, to say that ‘we should give ourselves the freedom to be imperfect’ implies that perfection is possible. That’s another thing I disagree with. Literature, like all arts, is an example of that old adage about beauty lying in the eye of the beholder. You may someday write a book that seems perfect to you and to a million other readers, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like it.

      • Although we might disagree over several things as we have different perspectives, there’s a need to be easy on new writers.

        Being raised in Maharashtra, I once had a story in my Marathi textbook which was written by an illiterate woman in spoken language. The words were published in our textbook they way she had written it. Wrong spellings; the publishers hadn’t corrected it. Her writing was clumsy. What can you expect from an illiterate woman? Yet, her words touched.

        It often happens that I come across works of not-so-refined writers. They have some spark in them which instantly makes you love them.

        Sometimes I think people are dying inside and use writing as a way to express themselves to the world. They do. But the industry asks them to ‘fit in.’ Which, in some way, makes them timid.

        Overall, it’s not about the language and skills as much it is about stories and expressing.

        Anyway. That’s my opinion. Have you heard of Jeff Goins? I love the way he inspires others and induces faith in them.

        • No, I’ve never heard of Jeff Goins.

          And it is about the stories. That’s why I ended the post with these words: “Naturally, this isn’t all, because submitting a clean, well-edited manuscript doesn’t guarantee that it will get published. Lots of other things matter—the story (and that can actually refer to non-fiction too; how well you put your point across); coherence, writing style, characterization, your ability to draw your reader in.” The point I’m trying to make is that publishers are more likely to accept work that’s not merely a good story, but clean, as in relatively error-free. I have worked with enough editors to know that (and I’ve edited enough writing to realize that, as well).

          But let us agree to disagree.

  10. Hello Madhulika!

    Very useful post for aspiring writers (even published ones). And, it’s not just useful but a gripping read too.

    Writing my first book was a learning experience, and learning (and growing) is beautiful, isn’t it? Simple words and short sentences make a book reader friendly, and you feel more connected. I love Chitra Banerjee and Jhumpa Lahiri, and feel connected to their writing.

    Editing is tough and tiring. Tougher than writing. It demands concentration, silence and solitude. With traditional publishers, it becomes easier as the editor works with you till you make last minute changes. Last minute changes disturbs the crispness and neatness (you have worked hard on) of a writing. I think one should proofread a manuscript twice after making changes (avoiding the temptation to make further changes).

    I loved reading this post! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Thank you, Tarang. I’m glad you found this post useful. :-)

      Yes, going with a traditional publisher does have the advantage of having someone (hopefully competent) edit your manuscript. Someone I know recently sent me the final draft of their book for review. It was already typeset, ready to go for printing, and when I asked the author if I could suggest any changes, if I happened to come across any typos, I was told that no, that wouldn’t be possible at this stage… and the MSS was riddled with some of the most embarrassing mistakes I’ve come across. The publisher, it turned out, was a vanity publisher, who did little more than take the author’s money to format the book and create a cover, and print. On the one hand I felt sorry for the author, on the other, I wondered why she hadn’t at least hired a freelance editor to check her work, even if she didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route.

  11. These tips are super useful! I already know that just following your well articulated posts (every single one) is a great education for me, besides being a fun read! You have listed the specifics and I will use this as a check-list, going forward, for my communications, to ensure that the basics are covered.

    Also, I am learning to appreciate that less is more. As Mark Twain had famously said about his letters “If I had my time to go over again, I would make my sermons much shorter, for I am conscious they have been too wordy.”. There certainly is a lot of value in being able to write succinctly, even though it’s easier said than done.

    Thank you for sending along this wonderful list! Can’t wait for the follow-up post(s) on this topic.

    • Thank you, Ashish. I’m glad this proved helpful. As you mention, it’s true that this doesn’t just hold good for people who write for a living, but also for people who need to communicate as professionals. I have been long enough in the corporate world to see the bloopers people are guilty of even in simple e-mails. Not as if anybody is likely to nitpick over trivial issues like punctuation when it comes to a routine e-mail, but I think a well-written presentation (for example) can make a difference. My husband, who still works in the corporate sector (in software) has a huge struggle trying to improve the communication skills of several of his managers – they’re fabulous as tech guys, but their communication skills aren’t good enough for them to handle clients (especially international ones, which is the bulk of their business), so it’s an uphill task.

  12. This is one of the best write ups on writing :)

    i especially liked that ‘Do not fall in love with your work’ point… and i believe for first time authors, this will be the most difficult rule to follow :)

    Thanks again Madhu :)

    • Glad to have been of help. :-) And yes, not falling in love with your own writing is hard to follow, but I think it also pays off in the long run. Making yourself more open to criticism allows people to offer constructive feedback, which can then help you improve. Always defending your writing, or refusing to incorporate any feedback, doesn’t help you grow.

  13. When I finished my first novel, I was very excited and sent it off to five literary agents almost immediately. Well one of them responded with a rejection and a why. It was full of grammatical and structural errors, I was head hopping, my dialogue dragged and I was guilty of on-the-nose writing. I didn’t understand half of what she was talking about. I was very embarrassed once I had put some time and effort into learning the rules of writing. I never realized how bad my work was at the time. I just knew I had a great story(the one thing the agent agreed with) :-)

    • I can empathise, because pretty much the same thing happened to me – except that the publisher(s) in question (there were two of them, in succession) didn’t bother to explain what was wrong with my manuscript. It was only much later, after my first book had been published, that I happened to meet the chief editor of one of the publishing houses that had rejected the MSS, and he said, “It would have required too much work.”

      As it happened, I was lucky enough to find a good literary agent, who saw the worth in the story itself. And, as it further happened, the main work that had to be done to correct it was mine – the agent read through the MSS, told me what was wrong (mostly shifting points of view), and that was it.

  14. “Do not fall in love with your own writing. It’s an easy trap to fall into..”

    One of the best tip I have got on writing as a wannabe writer.

    Thank you for the post..

  15. Mam I had written a page (“Samne Wali Khidki Songs”) on my blog few months ago. I want to write more, specifically a movie review, but I am confused which kind of movie should I start with. I mean the popular ones or infamous ones or infamous ones of popular actors or “Bimal Roy” directed or “Hrishikesh Mukherjee” directed or royal one like Mughal-e-Azam or layman one like Ganga Jamuna or a patriotic one like Upkar…..

    Very much confused
    Please help

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s