How Rough Will You Go?

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Last summer I created a four-part seminar, “The Rules, And How To Break Them” for this blog. My intention was to show how crucial it is to learn the guidelines and formulas in writing fiction, because once you understand them, you can work around them.

There is a singular exception in my opinion, one rule that should never be broken: always treating your work in a professional manner – using standard formatting with readable fonts, and correcting your copy before showing it to anyone.

I still believe that. I set my Word docs to one-inch margins, double-spaced, usually Times New Roman or Cambria 12 point font. I check my work for spelling, grammar and punctuation before presenting it to a critique group or beta reader. What I present is never perfect, but I catch and correct a lot more errors than I let through.

Not everyone follows that policy. I don’t understand why. Pages with odd or odd sized fonts and single line spacing can be difficult to read. I don’t take issue with the occasional extra or dropped word, a few typos, or missing dialog tags. Writers who’ve caught an error after the fifth proofing of their work know it can happen.

However, when I have to review pages that are hard to read or overloaded with avoidable mistakes, I feel more like a teacher correcting papers than a writer offering critique. In fact, too many errors distract me from the writing, from finding the real gems within the pages as well as the core issues with character or plot.

I recently submitted pages from my third novel to a critique group with the up-front warning that they were a first draft. I’d been struggling with how to develop the story, which plot points to follow and which to drop. Even so, I made sure to present the material as though it was my final draft – proofed for typos and other errors. Their feedback was extraordinarily helpful, but I doubt they would have been able to provide so much insight if I hadn’t done my cleanup first.

Some writers I’ve worked with over the years don’t agree with me. They’ll submit a rough draft and make corrections after the critique. I’ve even heard some say they don’t care about grammar, punctuation and spelling – they can hire someone to do that for them. What professional would admit to being unable to handle some of the most basic elements of their job?

Doesn’t submitting sloppy work unchecked for common errors not only show a disregard for one’s own material, but disrespect for the readers?



12 thoughts on “How Rough Will You Go?”

  1. You make such good points that all writers should consider. Respect for the reader is so important unless the writer doesn’t want anybody to read his work. And how selfish to think somebody else can clean it up for you. And what if the beta reader gets so used to sloppy work that they miss half of your mistakes? I want to try to do my best at all levels. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been guilty in the past of not cleaning up the grammar first when I’ve specifically asked a reader to look at something else, but they always point out the grammar anyway, so I’ve started cleaning it up first so they don’t waste their time. And it’s probably distracting. Very good points that I hadn’t considered.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve found that I give, and get, better feedback with cleaner copy. I’d rather focus on any problems with the story than with the spelling, and want that from my beta readers as well.


  3. With spell check AND grammar check on most word processing programs, it’s not terribly hard to eliminate most of those errors. I know we all slip up now and then, but you are so right that clumsy mistakes detract from the writing and brand the writer as an amateur. Good post, Miko!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agree completely! I don’t have beta or friend readers, but do have several editors, paid and not, and I wouldn’t dream of sending them a manuscript that wasn’t as clean/well formatted as I could get it (at the time! There’s always stuff I miss). Seems to me, sending/giving someone a manuscript they have to “work-at” reading and not just edit is unprofessional and bordering on rude. They are doing you a favor, right? Good post, with good reminders!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. None of us are perfect; I’ve found errors on the fifth read-through of my pages. I also don’t mind an occasional slip-up when I critique. It’s the excessive problems that distract me from the writing.


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