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Why You Shouldn’t Kidnap a Copyeditor By Daniel Soule

Writing.ie | Resources | Getting Published | More Publishing Options

Daniel Soule

Hopefully, I have caught you in time, perhaps as you scan the Writing.ie page on your phone while browsing the aisles of your local hardware superstore. You were checking off the things you’ll need for editing: rope, check; duct tape, check; rags for soaking in chloroform, check – but where do you get chloroform from exactly? You were on your phone anyway, looking for lists of copy-editors to hunt down.

If only someone had warned you that fifty-per-cent of being or – if you prefer a little more Blakian melodrama, and heck you’re a writer so you probably do – “becoming” a writer is editing. The trouble is, you are not built for it. You are a “creative”, an outlier, a non-conformist. These things do not a copy-editor make.

It became clear there was one simple solution – as there was in the decision to kill off Mary-Jane Pickleworth in the second act of your novel. You must kidnap a copy-editor to do this damn work for you.

Okay, put back the padlocks and everything else on the list. I have got a better solution that costs less than the contents of your wobbly trolley and won’t incur a mandatory life sentence if you are caught. Three pieces of software can change your writing life. I’ll tell you about them in turn, building to a crescendo, because I’m one of those melodramatic creative types too.

The first simple editing tool is Google Translate. This is a ‘text-to-speech’ programme. The principle is simple. Copy and paste your prose into the ‘English’ box and press the ‘speak’ button below. Your computer will then read back your glittering words to you, enabling you to hear what you couldn’t see – a stray ‘s’ or ‘ed’ from reworking a sentence, or a homophone mistake. You may also get a sense that a sentence is too long or the rhythm of a paragraph isn’t as you intended. Simple. Perhaps too simple, you think?

Second is a free plug-in for Microsoft Word called WordTalk. The software was developed at Edinburgh University, and here’s what they say about it: “[WordTalk] will act as a ‘text reader’ and create a spoken sound version of the text in the document and read it back to you as it highlights the words.

“WordTalk was conceived and developed by Rod Macaulay of TASSC in Aberdeen, Scotland, who later received a Microsoft Innovative Teacher Award for its development.

“For people with reading and writing difficulties, having text reinforced by hearing it read aloud can be very useful. It is also useful for proof reading and learning another language.”

Features include:

  • Speaks entire document, paragraph or word;
  • Highlights the text as it goes;
  • Talking dictionary;
  • Adjust the word highlight colours;
  • Change the voice and the speed;
  • Convert text to speech (wav or mp3).”

The voices are a choice of whatever your version of Office is already loaded with, mine were male and female Americans and a generic English Female. It’s a bit more fiddley to install but much less faff than tabbing between Word and Google when it is. WordTalk is much smoother too with more control of the look and speed of how it reads your document than Google. Once it is downloaded, WordTalk appears under the ‘Add-ins’ tab at the top of the screen and it is as simple as click and read.

My third and final recommendation is a real game changer: Smart-Edit. It will cost you either $67 as a plug-in for Microsoft Word or $57 for other PC based formats. However, keep in mind that that is a lot less than the contents of your wobbly trolley or damage to your delicate creative soul when you are serving hard time.

Why is it so good? Well, because it is as close as you can get to kidnapping and imprisoning a copy-editor to do your work for you without actually doing it. How? Be patient, my would be kidnapper.

Firstly, there is a free ten-day, full featured, try-before-you-buy trial, so you can test it out first. Think about it. What would have happened if you’d followed through only to find out you kidnapped the equal-opportunities dyslexic copyeditor? (FYI I’m dyslexic so I get a pass on dyslexic jokes.)

Here’s what it does:

“SmartEdit runs a series of 20 individual checks on your work and highlights areas that might need to be looked at. These checks include: highlighting repeated phrases and words, producing a list of every adverb used, flagging possible misused or misspelled words such as “complement” instead of “compliment”.

“SmartEdit also examines your sentence structures: highlighting common phrases you use to begin sentences, monitoring sentence length, as well as flagging possibly incorrect punctuation, such as multiple exclamation marks (“!!!?”), or inconsistent use of smart quotes and straight quotes.”

Smart-Edit’s list of features is:

  • Repeated Phrases List
  • Repeated Words List
  • Adverb Usage List
  • Monitored Words List
  • Redundancies List
  • Dialog Tag Counter
  • Cliché List
  • Separate Dialog & Prose Checks
  • Misused Word List
  • Foreign Phrase Usage List
  • Profanity Usage List
  • Suspect Punctuation List
  • Proper Nouns List
  • Acronyms List
  • Sentence Start List
  • Sentence Length Graph
  • Smart & Straight Quote Checker
  • Dash and Hyphen Checker
  • Word, Character & Page Count
  • Print Reports
  • Export Reports to Excel
  • Export Reports to PDF and HTML
  • Export Reports to CSV or Text

I am using the Microsoft Word plug-in version. It was very easy to install and using it has been just as straight forward. Again, it appears as a new tab at the top of the screen. I click and perhaps ten to fifteen seconds later I have a breakdown of a 5,000-word short story.

Smart-Edit took only one minute and six seconds to analyse a forty-thousand-word manuscript. The analysis appears as different panes to the side and bottom of your Word document, just like when you hit ‘Shift+F7’ for the thesaurus, which you can then minimise, expand or close as you wish. Each element of a list is connected to your document. All you have to do is click on the suspect word or phrase and it takes you right to it. In fact, it automates much of what a professional copy-editor would do, as such Smart-Edit isn’t just for writers but editors and copy-editors alike. For example, I liked it so much I recommended it to a horror magazine I occasionally write for. A couple of days later they said they had adopted it to help the editorial staff. They also adopted WordTalk.

Editing will always be an important task for a writer but these pieces of software can help lessen the burden and smooth the process considerably. Where does that leave us? Not in gaol, for one. You see, there really is no need to kidnap a copyeditor. There is help out there for people like you and me, so please put down the duct tape and step out of the shadows.

(c) Daniel Soule

About the author

Once Dan was an academic but the sentences proved too long and the words too obscure. Northern Ireland is where he now lives. But he was born in England and raised in Byron’s home town, which the bard hated but Dan does not. They named every other road after Byron. As yet no roads are named after Dan but several children are. He tries write the kind of stories he wants to read and aims for readers to want to turn the page. Dan’s work has featured in the Incubator, Storgy, the Dime Show Review and the horror magazine Devolution Z.
Twitter: @Grammatologer
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