Working with Your Pet Peeves

Everyone has their pet peeves. One thing to keep in mind is pet peeves are about the person who holds them, not the person who’s doing the evil deed. Generally, people are not out to get you (unless we’re talking family). They’re not trying to push your buttons.

If you have a pet peeve in writing, think of it as an asset rather than another way for others to irritate you. As a critique partner, your pet peeves can come in handy. Why? Because when you see the particular item, it stands out to you in a way that may not have stood out to the writer. It’s an opportunity for you give your valuable expertise to someone less experienced in a particular topic.

For example, I don’t know about others, but homonym (who’s versus whose, it’s versus its, your versus you’re, past versus passed, and there versus their versus) are my biggest problems and mistakes I make all the time. It’s not that I don’t know the difference or when to use them. It’s more on the line of human error. I have to make an extra check in my mind while typing homonyms. I’m pretty sure I type the way I read (by the word rather than the letter, unless I have to sound things out). So when it comes to homonyms, I’m guessing the first word that pops into my mind is the one I type.

If I realize it’s one of my problem words, I’ll stop and check it in my head before continuing to type. If not, I might gloss over it. Later, I may or may not catch it in editing. Just like anyone else editing their work, I don’t always catch all my mistakes. I also find it easier to spot glitches in another person’s work than my own. And we know spell/grammar check is not perfect. There are programs, like autocrit, which do identify homonyms and other errors writers should check though, but even those are not infallible. So I make the mistake. And yeah, misusing homonyms are on a lot of people’s pet peeve (say that fast three times) list. Then again, I’ve got my own set of pet peeves.

Anyway, I had a writer read one of my manuscripts recently. She pointed out several misuses of words (administrations versus ministrations and purses versus pierces, etc) which I had. Honestly, I had no idea I used them incorrectly. I also didn’t realize how often I used the terms in my manuscript (which was more than I liked). For me, having her point it out was an invaluable learning experience. If not for her, those errors would likely still be in my manuscript. I’m 30something and still learning new grammar rules and new vocabulary. Last year I learned the difference between lay versus lie.

For me, writing is a journey. I learn as I go. I understand that everyone is at different levels in their writing experience. The compiled writing list of rules are  excellent tools, but not everyone is there yet. Not everyone knows about the guidelines. I believe part of the job of a critique partner is to point writers in the right direction. Show them the guidelines and refer them to resources which will help.

Critiquing combines the idea of give a man a fish versus teach a man to fish and lead a horse to water. We, as critique partners, can just go through and make the changes, or we can explain the guidelines. We can make suggestions, but we can’t force our partners to use them.

So I say, keep your pet peeves. Don’t yank your hair out when you encounter them. Instead take them and use them to help someone else through constructive criticism.

Software Review: AutoCrit

A few days ago, someone in one of my group lists mentioned an editing program called AutoCrit. I use critique groups for the most part. They’re very helpful with making sure the story flows and reducing distractions. However, critters are also very subjective. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes it‘s not. In the end, it‘s up to the author to sift through all the critiques and determine which advice works best for their work. Then, the author ends up trying to incorporate the select advice into their work.

So, back to AutoCrit. How does it work for the author? For one, it‘s objective. It provides an objective assessment of the work and highlights problem areas. AutoCrit offers three Free Reports: Overused Words, Repeated Phrases, and Sentence Length Variation. Try them out now. The Overused Words report was what got me hooked. As a new writer, I’m not always sure what’s awesome writing and what’s just okay. I’m learning just like everyone else. AutoCrit is an excellent tool for new writers learning the trade and experienced writers looking for a quick tool to assess their work.

For example, many new writers overuse adverbs -ly words. AutoCrit determines an acceptable number of adverbs allowed in a piece, and when the writer reaches the limit, the software highlights it as a problem area. It DOES NOT recommend eliminating EVERY adverb, as a writer might find particular critters suggest. But it does recommend a reduction in the number of adverbs. It‘s up to the author to decide which to eliminate, if they choose. The same is for other overused words’ was/were,’ ‘ it/there,’ ‘ just/then,’ and many more.

Members receive added benefits: Repeated Words, Dialogue Tags, First Words, Names and Pronouns, Repeated Phrases Summary, Combination View of Overused & Repeated Words, *Cliché Finder, *Redundancy Finder, *Homonym Highlighter, *Readability Suite, *Change definitions, *Difficult Sentence, *Complex Word, *Pacing Monitor.

*Available only with platinum membership.

I had a difficult time finding editing software, and very few allowed users to try before you buy. One software, WhiteSmoke, I spent a bit of time with. Like AutoCrit it requires an internet connection. WhiteSmoke worked very much like the spell grammar check available in MS Word, but included additional feature. Not a bad program, but my experience with it seemed as if it were designed more for technical writing than creative writing. The suggestions were very formal, and not always accurate (like MS Word). If I were a technical writer, I might consider that over AutoCrit, but I’m not.

I also tried HEALaDoc; at least I loaded it on my computer. There seems to be some compatibility issues with some versions of Windows. Repetition Detection was another I tried. It‘s very simple program which does what the name says. I liked it, though it didn’t offer all the benefits of AutoCrit. Analyzer does what the title implies. However, it offers absolutely no suggestions, just statistical reports on your work. It‘s up to the writer to interpret the results and apply it to his/her work.

In the end, I found AutoCrit to be the most well-rounded software for my creative writing needs. But don’t take my word on it. Check it out for yourself. AutoCrit

So, what’s with all the extra highlighted words in my text today? I took the liberty of running this document through AutoCrit, and these are the results. Below are the suggestions AutoCrit had for me. Now this is not an all inclusive list, I only included the items with check boxes, and deleted the rest for brevity.

  • generic descriptions                            6 Remove about 5 occurrences
  • initial conjunction                               6 Remove about 3 occurrences
  • it/there                                            24 Remove about 19 occurrences
  • just/then                                             6 Remove about 3 occurrences

Edited 4/2/2012: AutoCrit has made a few changes since I wrote this review, but the program works virtually the same. Other than new and improved, the free trial allows access to all the reports instead of just a few. The main differences between the membership levels these days is the number of words the program will analyze at one time and the delivery options. Professional membership adds one more feature… the ability to add your own keywords to check for overuse. I’m quite fond of the word “hardly,” so that’s a pretty cool feature for me. 🙂

Anyway, try out AutoCrit. It’s served me well.

Chaffing Under the Rules

I’m in a couple of critique groups, which are very helpful. As a new writer, it amazed me at how little I knew. I’ve been an avid reader for all my life, going through several books a week (until recently that is). Yet reading as a reader is so different than reading as a writer. I’ve learned about show versus tell, things which distance the reader, dialogue, and so much more.

Then I started reading books with a new perspective based upon all the guidelines I learned in my critique group. And what I found was very few published authors follow these special list of rules. So then there’s this thing I keep hearing: Until you’re published, just follow the rules. After you’re published then you can break them.

Honestly, I hate this concept. It’s like setting the standard for the readers, then saying “You know what? You bought my first book, I’m sure you’ll buy my second/third/whatever regardless of the crap I spew.” Please writers, If you have the ability to produce good work, don’t give your readers crap just because you have a fan following.

On the other hand, I find the rules stifling at times. When I take off my writer’s hat and just read as a reader, I still enjoy the books even when the writer breaks the rules. Writing isn’t about following the rules; it’s about creating enjoyable content. Check out the big name authors (Stephen King, Stephanie Meyers (recently), ). They tell stories people want to read. They don’t get bogged down by how many ‘to be’ verbs are on the page.

Rules are great. But don’t let them stifle your creativity. One of the great things about writing is artistic freedom.

Keep or Trash

If you’re like me, you can’t wait to receive the next critique of your chapter, story, novel, whatever.

“You’ve got mail.”

You click the flashing envelope one to many times and wait for the multiple windows to load. Then the critique…

Your critter has found so many things you’ve missed, and you’re so thankful s/he took the time to review your work. Then you come across something that just doesn’t jive with you. What is your critter talking about? Doesn’t s/he get it? Did s/he even read the chapter? Then the doubts kick in. Maybe you didn’t make it clear enough. Maybe you should just delete it all. STOP!

Be objective about the critiques; they’re meant to help you, not hinder you. If you take the advice of every single critter out there regardless of whether it goes against your instincts or not, your book will be TRASH. Not all advice is worthy of your book, as interesting as the opinion may be.

Read a critique with the the idea you’ll incorporate the sound advice and set the “other stuff” to the side. Writing is about artistic freedom, make it fun!

Everyone has their own particular opinions, likes and dislikes. Some people will enjoy your style, others will not. Accept that and move on.