Oh, No… A Dangling Participle

DanglingA professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
-Richard Bach

As a teenager, I was never the student who giggled when the sex-ed teacher talked about hoohoos and whatsits, nor when the music teacher said pianist. In fact, I looked down my nose at my fellow pupils who partook in such cheap kicks.

But dangling participle? That floored me every time. I don’t know why. But this isn’t a post about far-fetched double entendres, no. It’s a post about the editing process and having someone rifle through all your dangling participles and misplaced modifiers.

Yes. Another editing post. Good writing is, after all, a product of editing.

Just last night I came across a blog post by a dear, sweet friend of mine, the illustrious and talented Vania Rheault. (Her Twitter | Her Books | Her GoodReads) In this post, Vania talks about the highs and lows of enduring the process of a professional edit. Please, please, please check her post out here. She will inevitably do a much better job of articulating what it feels like than I will.

Not only is Vania a wonderful friend, she also happens to be my editor. (And I agree with Vania’s post—having an editor makes me feel like a professional writer.) She’s my first true editor, and every time I read one of her notes (her many, many notes) I realize just how blessed I am to have her.

Since her original blog post inspired this one, I needn’t shy away from saying that having a professional editor is a blessing and a curse. She knows. It hurts. It stings. It makes me want to cry in the shower. But good heavens, what an education she’s giving me.

This is my second full-length manuscript, and I do feel I’m a better writer now than when I completed the first. But holy cow did I make Vania work harder than I should have. I felt terrible that so many of the things she caught…I hadn’t. Of course, when she pointed them out to me I saw them clear as crystal.

Writers have a special kind of blindness, don’t we? I think we find ourselves so wrapped up in the excitement of our ideas, or that special bit of prose we hold in such high esteem, that we forget that even the most seasoned writers have literary crutches they shed during multiple rounds of edits.

My crutches are elementary. They’re embarrassing. And she catches all of them. The first pass she made through my manuscript, I was certain she’d lost all faith me because of the sheer number of errors. But she didn’t. She encouraged me.

So, since the sting of embarrassment is still fresh in my writer’s soul, I might as well air all my dirty laundry and let you in on my three most personally shameful mistakes in hopes you will catch them in your own work before your editor gets them.

1.| Got/Get

When we’re in the throes of passion with our first draft, we often find ourselves tapping away at the keyboard so fast that we shortchange our vocabulary for the sake of getting words down. Then we write gems like this:

Once we got there…
She didn’t get it…
We hadn’t gotten far…

Get and got are such lazy verbs. They’re first draft words.

Once we arrived
She failed to understand
We hadn’t traveled far…

These small improvements add up and make for far stronger work. Seek and destroy weak verbs!

2.| Was/Were

This particular crutch of mine grated at my nerves when I realized how many littered my manuscript. When I attended college, my English professor hammered into our minds that overusing was/were weakens our work, and if she’d gotten her hands on the first document I sent Vania…I’d have lost my 4.0.

On the way to the concert, we were singing along with the radio.
He was running in the marathon to impress his girlfriend.
She was hoping the cake she was planning to bake would meet her grandmother’s standards.

Was/Were + -ing = weak

On the way to the concert, we sang along with the radio.
He ran in the marathon to impress his girlfriend.
She hoped the cake she planned to bake would meet her grandmother’s standards.

3.| Adverbs

These are an easy crutch to have, and a hard one to overcome. Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. If you are unaware of what one of these nasty buggers are, they’re the -ly words that exist to describe your verbs. They’re a bit lazy, and often times they communicate that the writer isn’t confident in their ability to convey an idea. I’m going to combine some of these three crutches to drive my point home:

She had gotten so angry, she loudly closed the window.
Happily, they were skipping back home.
I was crying quietly after reading the first round of editing notes.

I bet Vania is cringing. 😉

Her face burned white-hot as she slammed the window, rattling the panes.
Neighbors two blocks away heard laughter as the siblings skipped home.
Without a peep, tears welled in my eyes after I’d read the first round of editing notes.

 

Rewriting, revision, editing: These are the things we cannot take lightly. No matter how much it hurts, I’m grateful whenever Vania slashes away at my pages. I’m happy to mop up the mess. Should you have an editor take you on, you cannot take their notes as a personal affront. They endeavor to make your work better. In the end, they’re only making suggestions. It’s up to us, the authors, whether we take their advice. That said, it is our duty as authors to learn from our mistakes and hope that in the next manuscript, our editors find less to correct.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I must get back to the gut-wrenching reality that I am, in fact, not perfect.

3 thoughts on “Oh, No… A Dangling Participle

  1. vaniamargene says:

    And I think it’s important that your editor be kind. An editor doesn’t need to get nasty or sound high-horsed to get their point across. Trust me, we feel bad enough as it is. They don’t need to sugarcoat it; if we made mistakes, we made mistakes, let’s learn and move on. I’m so glad I’ve been able to help. I’m just paying forward what others have done for me. 🙂 Love doesn’t make the world go ’round–it’s editing favors.

    Liked by 1 person

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