So You Wanna Be A Pantser


One of the quickest ways to get bad reviews is to send up a poorly edited manuscript. In late 2015, I accidentally sent up the first draft of a story after adding more material to the six-month-old manuscript already online. I 'borrowed' my book to see how it looked, and to my horror, I saw what had happened. I uploaded the proper copy, but it would take ten to twenty-four hours for the change to take effect back then. I asked myself, 'what's the worst that could happen?' I quickly found out.

No one wants to read a poorly written story, but then, some take their search for perfection to the extreme. This reviewer went on a rant, explaining that she had found 'thirty-four errors in grammar and syntax,' lecturing me about proper editing. I knew who this woman was, so I contacted her to explain what had happened. I cannot print here what she told me to do. Unfortunately, the world has a few people like that. I made a mistake, I found it, and I corrected it in less than forty-eight hours. Life goes on, but I learned something from that episode.

The first thing I did to prevent that from happening again was to delete the old copy of an updated MS (manuscript) as soon as I’m sure the new one is finished and saved. By doing this, the worst-case scenario is that I upload something that has been edited at least once. I keep folders for each story I write. I keep a pdf copy of the story, any notes I may have written with links to my research sources, and any covers I might have designed. In this manner, everything for that story is in one place. I then send a copy of everything in that folder to my email account. I have multiple Gmail accounts, including one specifically for my writing materials.

If you are a serious writer, you may want to get a DropBox account. DropBox is available from anywhere you can get online. It's always good to save your material, but keeping it in two locations is even better. I lost an MS that I had worked on for over six months when an older computer decided one morning that it was going to retire. It took a lot of coaxing, but I finally extracted that story and several other documents and photos that I treasured. It was a stressful situation that isn't necessary anymore.

You can have friends look your story over, but who's to say that they are good grammarians? I have a group of 'beta-readers' who will occasionally point out that they found an error. Sadly, most can't be truly honest with you and tell you that 'this is horrible! Rewrite this section!' Of the two dozen people I have as test readers, only two will point out my flaws. Those are my most valuable assets. Honest and intelligent people who are good at grammar and know a good storyline when they see it are rare.

So if you are on a budget and can't afford the services of a decent editor, what do you? Do you suck it up and suffer from the occasional review that hits you with less than glowing remarks due to your grammar? Far too many people choose that alternative, but there is a way around most of those errors. I call it my 'G&G' editing process. This is shorthand for 'Gmail and Grammarly.'

I was one of the very first people in a trial with Gmail back in very late 2004. I now have at least a dozen accounts to handle email for the various projects that I have done in my life. It was quite by accident that I recently discovered that the platform had begun to install its version of correcting the grammar of its users. It isn't a 'know all, be all' grammar correction service, but close. The one thing that I like about it is that it picks up missing words in your writing. I have a horrible habit of leaving out small words such as 'a' or 'of.' Blame it on advancing age or carelessness, but it seems to be happening more frequently.

What I do is write a paragraph or two, then copy it from my MS Word program, and paste it into an open Gmail 'Compose' window. Click anywhere in the middle of the window after pasting, and any errors that the interface finds will have red or blue squiggly lines under a word or a small section of words. By clicking on the words highlighted by the colored lines, you'll get a popup with a spelling and grammar correction, or it will show you that you forgot to use a small word. I accept about 90% or more of all said suggested changes. You must read the resulting sentence to see if it still says what you wanted it to say. Remember, this is an interface and not a human. They are building these programs with a tremendous amount of 'AI' or 'Artificial Intelligence,' but it is not always correct.

During this process, I keep two copies of my work. One might be the original title, in this case, 'Pantser,' and the other might be named 'Pantser G&G.' I copy what I have checked in the Gmail side of the work and save it. This done, it's time to use the other 'G' of the 'G&G' process. My friends over on Blogit dot com tell me that the free side of Grammarly works fairly much like the paid side. I began to subscribe to the site back in late 2015 and have checked nearly seven million words since then. Not all of it has been done in stories as I also used to write several newspaper and website columns every week. If writing is your 'thing,' I suggest buying a year's subscription. 

Paste what you have taken from the Gmail corrections into the Grammarly app and wait a moment while it makes its suggestions. My big problem is the comma placement. I never had a problem with that in my younger days. Maybe I've hit my head a time or two too many, but commas drive me nuts. Grammarly is good at fixing those mistakes. I also have a habit of writing long-drawn-out complex sentences. I didn't have a problem reading them, but Grammarly was continually pointing them out to me. It took me a while to figure out how to fix those. The easiest way is to break a long sentence into two or three smaller sentences. Once you see what the Grammarly interface is looking to see, it gets easier.

Just as I told you about not automatically accepting every change that the Gmail side wants you to make, not every change Grammarly wants you to make is correct or necessary. As I was writing this section, Grammarly did not like my use of the word 'words.' It wanted me to change it to 'terms.' Making that change would be silly or complicated to read the story. It also tells me that some readers might not understand certain words. Most of the time, I ignore those suggestions, but you also need to look at the idea to see if it would read better if you changed it.

My method works for me. I can't afford to spend the big bucks to have a professional look at my writing, but by running it through the Gmail interface and then the Grammarly app, you will weed out most of your more egregious errors. As you make the corrections, look at what you wrote and what the program wants you to correct and how it wants it done. I've found that the more I use this system, the fewer errors I am making. I hope that you might find the same in your writing.