[Feature photo: Sarah Reid]
1. Use the grammar-/spell-check feature on your word processing program.
Not only will this invaluable resource help you catch the errors that result in an editor not bothering to read your piece, this feature will teach you how not to make the same mistakes in the future.
2. Use active sentences.
The editor who opens your piece and reads: The tossed Frisbee arced from my hand into Steve’s over the muddy river. will hit the delete button faster than s/he’ll grab another slug of cold coffee. The editor who reads: I tossed the Frisbee to Steve and watched it arc over the muddy river. Knows s/he is dealing with a professional.
3. Write events in a sentence in the order they occurred.
An editor will read the following and pound her head on the desk: I walked into the bedroom after checking my hair in the mirror and giving up hope. Spare brain injury to editors and write: I checked my hair in the mirror, gave up hope, and walked into the bedroom.
4. Avoid sentence fragments and run-on sentences unless you already have a track record that means editors trust you breaking the rules.
Muddy trail. I tightened my pack straps and stepped off onto the pine duff, watching ahead for anything unusual that might be there and would jack up my pulse higher than it already was, after the
encounter with the imaginary bear that turned out to be a marmot. Thunder clap.
The fix: The muddy trail sucked at my boots. I tightened my pack straps and stepped off onto the pine duff. I watched ahead for anything unusual that would jack up my pulse higher than it already was. The bear that had turned out to be a marmot had been a shot of adrenaline. Thunder boomed in the distance.
5. Avoid having inanimate objects and/or body parts perform human actions.
An editor reads this: Her eyes darted around the room. and wonders if the writer is attempting Magical Realism.
The fix: She glanced frantically around the room.
The sun pounded him relentlessly.
The fix: He felt the sun like a steady hammer beat on his body.
Note: One of the biggest aids to writing publishable work is reading – lots of reading – classic and new travel writing, novels, short stories, essays, the backs of ketchup bottles. You’ll read work that inspires you. And, you’ll read work that teaches you what not to do.