The Dangers of Over-Editing

This month, we welcome onto the show a guest speaker, Dr. Melodie Lindsay, who is a professional proofreader and the founder of her company, Doclins. We tackle the subject of over-editing, whether it exists, how to know when you’re doing it, and how to stop.

Big thanks to Mel for joining us for this episode, where she gives some hand tips and tricks to proofreading your manuscript.

And as always, we have some hilarious mistakes of the month to brighten your day!

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Sarah: Hi everyone, welcome back to our fourth episode I do believe, of Dear Writer. We do have a very special guest today, which is Dr. Melodie Lindsay, and she is joining us from her home in Tauranga, I do believe. Yeah, she is a professional proof-reader and editor, and the founder of her company ‘Doclins’. Would you like to sort of explain a bit more about what you do, Melodie?

Mel: Hi! Yeah, yeah. You can just call me Mel. It’s great to be here, and thanks for the intro. So, I just started out proofreading a few things here and there for my lab-mates back at university, and it sort of progressed to reading their entire thesis, which got to be quite a lot. So, there are a bunch of hoops to jump through with the university, and so I ended up starting Doclins, and you know, getting my company started. So we proofread mainly academic theses, papers, that kind of thing. And, at the moment we only have people with doctorates who can proofread for us, so that’s kind of our little point of difference, but… looking forward I’m hoping to bring some more people on board. Or at least one other person on board, and keep doing what we’re doing! And hopefully expand more into novels and more creative works and what-not, so exciting stuff, exciting times.

Ashley: Yeah, definitely exciting prospects! Welcome to the show. I hope you have a good time joining us.

Mel: Absolutely, I’m excited.

Sarah: Yeah, so that is really cool. Cause we are talking, sort of this time, about over-editing and the dangers of that.

Mel: [in background] Ooooooh!

Sarah: So that’s why we’ve brought Melodie on—or Mel, sorry—on this time!

Ashley: To help share some insight.

Sarah: Yes.

Ashley: Hopefully!

Mel: Oh right. Let’s hope my insights are valid! [laughs]

Sarah: We’ll start off with our usual kind of update I think though. So, Ashley, how has things been for you over the last month?

Ashley: It’s been… interesting. So, for those of you who aren’t in New Zealand, Auckland went back into a lockdown. Ah, cause of corona virus. So we’ve basically been cut off from the rest of the country with the military and roadblocks and all sorts of things.

Sarah: Oooh. I didn’t realize the military were involved. That’s quite intense!

Ashley: Yep, no, the military!

Mel: Zombie apocalypse…block you off…

Ashley: Yup. So that’s meant I have actually had quite a lot of time to work on writing. So it came at a good point. Which has been good… I still have to work in the lab because I’m deemed essential, it’s an interesting experience. But I don’t have any of my usual extra-curricular activities so I’ve had a lot of time to write. And that means that I actually finished editing our third book, Darkness, Set Us Free, which has been a great relief, because the editing of that really, really dragged on in the end. There were a couple of chapters in particular which I think I spent more than half the time of editing out of the entire time—yeah it took me over two weeks to edit those two chapters—but once I got past them it went quite smoothly. And, I think the main issue with those two chapters was they needed a lot more changing than I sort of realized. And I was trying to sort of mash new parts of the end, and it just really didn’t fit, which was why I was struggling. So in the end I rearranged it, rewrote it, and it worked out much better.

Sarah: I think that is quite good about having two of us is that you know, Ashley was really struggling, so, we were kind able to say well, hey, what if we moved this part to the beginning. And she was rewriting the chapter and I was sort of taking more of an editorial role of… let’s move this bit to the front, because you don’t necessarily need it there, and then you can rewrite the start of the next chapter to sort of flow on to it.

Mel: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah: It’s quite hard sometimes, to try and find those changes on your own.

Ashley: Especially when you’ve been staring at it for two weeks.

Sarah: I think we’re quite lucky that way! [laughs]

Mel: Yeah! [laughs] I think it’s really good to have the two of you, because not only can you bounce ideas back and forth, but you can kind of catch out each other’s mistakes.

Ashley: For sure. That’s hard to do yourself.

Sarah: Yeah, it definitely is. Which kind of leads into how I’ve been going. So I finished The Price of Pandemonium’s editing quite sort of earlier on in the month. And I had quite a bit of time on my hands, but that was quite good because I was sort of finishing up my exams for my nursing that I was doing. But once I got that out the way, I was then sort of faced with quite a bit of spare time, so I’ve been listening to a lot of The Story Grid with Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl, so I decided that I’d start my own novel, and try to intertwine those… The Story Grid way of structuring into that and see how it went. And I am now about thirty thousand words into the book, which is quite an achievement. Because usually when I write by myself, I find it really, really, tricky and I don’t get very far! So this has been me tryna challenge myself, and hopefully it will show in other areas of writing collaboratively as well.

Mel: Awesome. That’s good stuff.

Ashley: That’s exciting.

Mel: Very exciting. Yeah! [laughs]

Sarah: It’s a like teen psychological thriller, so it’s quite exciting!

Mel: Oh wow! A psych thriller! Nice! Yeah, I think a lot of people had a lot of time for writing. I was absolutely inundated last week with proofreading requests. And it was kind of all rounded off by just starting a new job, which was unexpected.

Sarah: [in background] Ah cool!

Mel: So I was basically proofreading fulltime, eight hours a day. And I think all the engineering boys in Auckland must have just sat down and written for the whole of lockdown.

Sarah: [laughs]

Mel: Um, I yeah. So I was immersed in the world of engineering for I guess, three weeks!

Sarah: You must learn interesting stuff, being… like editing all these theses.

Mel: I do, I do! And there was… there is so many different topics within engineering. Electrical engineering—definitely not my favorite.

Sarah: [laughs]

Mel: I think I read an entire thesis on Wi-Fi stuff? But I don’t know, and it wasn’t until their conclusion that I was like, oh maybe we’ve been talking about internet this whole time. Yeah, so first mention of Wi-Fi was in their conclusion.

Sarah: So how do you deal with that kind of thing when you’re editing, and looking at someone else’s work and it’s almost like a different language? Like, clearly you must have ways of managing how to proofread and make sure that everything flows.

Mel: Yeah.

Sarah: I mean, I’ve heard it said sometimes it’s almost better if you don’t have knowledge in the field, because then you can sort of make sure that it makes sense. But how do you…

Mel: Yeah. Yeah. So, exactly. Sometimes I think it is good that I don’t have knowledge because otherwise I might be looking and going, oh well you’re wrong, you know…

Sarah: Yeah.

Mel: Um, or, that’s really interesting, why didn’t you look at this aspect, or why didn’t you study this? So, yeah. What’s good about I guess the proofreading side of it, and not really understanding, is you can say, google some of the terminology you don’t know. I do that a lot, just to be checking that it’s really a word. And I get a lot of ESL students, and so sometimes they actually get the words wrong. So that’s one thing I do have to be careful about. But then, I kind of go through and really you’re just pointing out: Cool, that’s a noun, that’s a verb, we’ll make it work.

Sarah: Yeah. Sounds really cool.

Mel: Yeah, I had last week, someone said to me, “oh in the old days you know we used to just read the thing backwards.” I’m sorry, that just blew my mind! I was like, I couldn’t not read an entire hundred-thousand-word thesis backwards… and make it make sense. [laughs]

Sarah: I guess you’d pick up some mistakes, maybe. But, it would be pretty challenging and I think you’d miss a lot as well.

Mel: I think you’d miss a lot, right? Yeah, and I think it would take a million hours to get through it that way.

Sarah: Right. I could not do that.

Ashley: Do you end up finding that you pick up words that they’ve used incorrectly, like a lot of technology, when you’ve googled it? Like you’ve looked it up, and you read it, and it’s like: Is that the right use of this?

Mel: Yeah, well… I had a lot of… you know people use words that if you directly plug it into a thesaurus, yeah sure you might get an alternative word but it really doesn’t work in the sentence. So, um… tryna think of an example right now. [pause] I don’t have an example right now, but you know…

Sarah: Yeah. You know, they… they’re trying to almost make themselves sound more knowledgeable on the area, so then they try and like, vary words but it doesn’t quite fit. Because every synon— syno—argh!

Mel: Yeah

Sarah: Can’t say that today [laughs]. Synonym? There we go.

Mel: We got there!

Sarah: Every synonym is slightly different, and has a slightly different meaning, so not every one fits with the sentence.

Mel: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So, I guess they… one that I did come across, they were just trying to say they were using a bigger or larger screw size. Fine, bigger screw. That’s fine. But, I guess they noticed that they said big and large too many times, so they wrote ‘more huge’.

Sarah: Oh goodness!

Sarah and Ashley: [laughing]

Mel: And I mean, they’re not… wrong. It’s just that you can’t say that: I would like a ‘more huge’ screw please.

Sarah: I should tell the surgeons that in the operating rooms. Be like, would you like a more huge screw, for this plate?

Ashley: They’d just look at you, be like…

Mel: Yeah. I dunno, I mean it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s just that you don’t say that.

Sarah: I think that’s the kind of thing though that can slip by really easily as well. Which is why it’s so helpful to have someone read over it, because… yeah.

Mel: And if it makes sense to you, you know it’s really hard to say oh, well will this make sense to someone else when it… whereas someone else would just say oh my goodness! No this does not work! Yeah.

Sarah: So, our topic obviously, which we’re kind of almost bordering on… um…

Ashley: Jumping into?

Sarah: Jumping into at the moment is over-editing. So I don’t know, Ashley, whether you would like to get us started on that or…

Ashley: Sure. No I can get us started. I think if we’re going to bring up the topic of over-editing, the first thing we’re going to have to put out there is, do we actually think it’s possible to overedit a manuscript?

Mel: Ooooh. Over-editing. OK, OK. Let’s go!

Ashley: Well…

Sarah: What do you think Mel?

Ashley: Yeah, we’ll start with you!

Mel: What do I think?

Sarah: I’m curious!

Mel: [laughs] I think it’s a tough one, over-editing. Yeah, first and foremost, we’re always trying to keep the style of the writer in anything that they send to us. Even if it’s just an academic text, see no one wants to hear my kind of creative interpretation of earthquake proofing. So…

Sarah: [laughs]

Mel: So, that said, I mean, I had a thesis which was fifty percent fictive novel. So you know…

Sarah: You’re like, have you considered a career in…

Mel: Yeah. It was a fine arts thesis.

Sarah: [in background] Right.

Mel: And he said to me, have you experienced fine arts theses before? Or humanities? And I said, yeah tons! We do them all the time, uh we get a lot of architecture theses, and they have you know a creative work, or you know statures attached, and that’s fine. And he said great, mine’s fine arts, so it has paintings attached, and he had pictures of his paintings in there, and I was like, yeah this is all going great, and then in the introduction it said it was a fifty percent creative fictive narrative, and it was about… a gender fluid robot apocalypse.

Sarah: [giggles]

Ashley: What?

Mel: He had a certain style of writing, and you know, I could have overedited it, and you know…

Ashley: Stripped it of whatever…

Mel: Stripped it of all his… he had tons of really descriptive um… you know…

Sarah: Very prose-like.

Mel: …sections. But, if I took it out, it probably would have taken away from his creative work and what he was trying to portray, so… over-editing, for me, yup. I think you can overedit.

Ashley: I definitely agree. I definitely agree. It’s really important, I feel the same way, like every novel—or even in my own thesis—you can tell that someone else, that there’s an author behind it who’s put their own thoughts and their own soul into it. So, I do feel that with too much editing, you can just start stripping away all of the personality from it, and just leaves a kind of empty shell of a thesis. Or a novel, or whatever work we’re talking about.

Mel: Yeah. Yeah. You can always get the same meaning across, but I guess it’s how you do that.

Ashley: What do you think, Sarah?

Sarah: So I think you can overedit. I think it gets to a point where like, once you sort of go through a few rounds of editing, and you start picking up on sort of all the mistakes and you rework it until you’ve got a cohesive narrative. Once you’ve done that, and if you just keep going and revisiting it, your gains become less and less and less, and I think you do get to a point where, if you keep going, that you start to overanalyze the stuff that’s actually good in there. And you begin to take that out and replace it with something that’s maybe not as good. And so, you can get kind of stuck in that loop of doing it over and over again.

Mel: [in background] Yup.

Sarah: Is my experience [laughs]. And when it comes to stripping stuff out, I have a real issue with adverbs, as you may notice on the blog.

Mel: [in background, laughing] Adverbs!

Sarah: I get really like, annoyed. Even some of them which aren’t so bad… I think last podcast, Ashley was talking about one that was like, whispered—it was supposed to be… I can’t remember was it furiously?

Ashley: Furiously. But it was ferociously.

Mel: [laughs]

Sarah: And, I was kind of sitting there like: Ah, to be honest I’d probably take that out of it entirely. Because that I don’t like adverbs very much. But, I do occasionally leave them in, because… yeah. Then if you edit too many of them out, it just feels really flat. Or you have to come up with a sentence to put there instead that keeps the life, or like an action that the character does. And you do too many of those and it just gets kind of trippy after a while.

Mel: Yeah. So how many times would you pass through your… your prose I guess? How many times would you go through and edit, would you say?

Sarah: That’s a really hard question. When you look at our first book [Sarah sighs, and everyone laughs], it’s been way too many times.

Mel. Yeah, yeah. I guess, just if you’re just going to write like a short dialogue or something. Will you read back over it once? Or do you have like a process?

Sarah: So the first draft I try not read over it too much. Like I might go over it once after reading it, make sure that it generally makes sense. And then… but I try not to touch it until the edits. And then, my process is slightly different from Ashley’s, I think. Cause Ashley tends to try and get chapter by chapter completely done at a time. But I find that’s kind of too much for my brain to focus on at once. You know, one round I’ll be like: OK, I’m going to do the major changes. Like any huge structural changes that need doing, then I’ll do those first.

Mel: [in background] Yep.

Sarah: And then I’ll go round a second time and I might look at whether I need to develop the scene a bit more, and then the third time be focused on yeah. Removing any extraneous details that are really not adding to the novel [laughs].

Mel: [also laughs]. OK, OK. That’s cool, that’s cool.

Sarah: Yeah. So I do about five times? But…

Mel: OK, OK. Yeah, I mean, just cause it’s interesting for me because once I get it, I don’t know how many times someone’s been over it, and sometimes I’m like, did you go over this? At all?

Sarah: How do you approach… so when you get a work that, I guess it’s that’s possibly the difference. You’re kind of more focused on the proofreading side of things right. Do you ever get asked to do things that are more structural? Or, I’m trying to think of the other term. Theres… you know there’s structural editing, and there’s… is it co—

Ashley: Copy editing?

Mel: Yup. Yup. So for everyone, no matter what, I do basic proofreading, you know words are spelled correctly, and then the grammar and punctuation is all fine. Most people require some, like I would call it light copy editing. Where I would be like, OK, look, using your choice of words here are other options that would make sense, and would probably convey the meaning of whatever it is you’re trying to get across better. So I give them options. And other people, I think I’ve had three thousand word essays sent in and I’ve had to make over a thousand corrections.

Sarah: Wow.

Mel: I mean it’s like, that’s not really proofreading any more, I’m just like OK, we need some serious help here! I usually leave their structure as it is, if it’s really bad…

Ashley: Oh my gosh

Mel: …I tell them to revise it with their supervisor if it’s a thesis, just because I’m not… I don’t think it’s really my place to say, OK! Let’s relook at your research!

Sarah: Yeah, yeah.

Mel: You know, so yeah. I guess I would do those two levels, and if it needs major changes, I might suggest that they split a paragraph every now and then, because some people seem to think that three pages for one paragraph is OK. It is not!

Sarah: I used to be really bad at that.

Mel: Yeah, yeah. I sometimes get in there with paragraph length, and I’m like, no. This is no longer one point, you know?

Ashley: I draw the line at paragraph length!

Sarah: It’s partly the way they teach it at school though. Because remember they used to teach… you’d have like your intro, and then you’d have the main body…

Ashley: The main body!

Sarah: …which you’d maybe have like one or two or three paragraphs, and then you’d have the conclusion. But, they didn’t really teach—as far as I remember—dividing paragraphs really well. So I got to like my nursing course, and that was something I had to really work on [laughs]. And it still comes out in creative writing as well, where I’ll be like, this is… this should be a new paragraph.

Mel: Yeah.

Sarah: And that’s a difference I find in creative writing too, is that, holy crap. The paragraphs are like, so much shorter. And then sometimes I’m like, is that too short? Is that too long? I don’t know.

Mel: [laughs] I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t even think there’s a good answer to that. It’s just sometimes I’m reading and I’m like, all of a sudden I’m talking about welding, but I thought we were talking about internet, so maybe somewhere in here we must have changed.

Sarah: Yeah.

Ashley: Sorry, we kind of talked about it through this, but what do you think actually consists of over-editing. Like what physical processes do we go through that makes us overedit?

Sarah: I think there’s that feeling that… it’s almost like one of the sort of perfectionist traits of, I’ve really gotta get this right, and you’re really anxious to do a good job of it. So, you go over it again and again, until you get to a point where you’ve kind of lost your way, I think!

Everyone: [laughs]

Ashley: I totally get that. You look at a sentence, you’ve read it like, I dunno, twenty times and you’re like, there’s something wrong with it. And after that you’re like, but is there?

Mel: [laughs] But is there?

Sarah: Which brings about the question, you know. How do you know when you’ve gone too far?

Ashley: Ugh. To be honest, I don’t know. That’s my simple answer. But I feel I often you know when I get to these parts in our novel when I feel like: is it good enough? Is it not good enough? Like I’m not sure. Often I’ll just read it aloud to myself, and like, does it sound good? And if it sounds good, I kind of decide, you know what, I’m going to leave it. It’s probably alright. And if it sounds strange, that’s when I might do something with it. Especially if it sounds like a robot, because I tend to do that a lot. Especially with dialogue. With dialogue, like not like attributions or anything, but the actual words.

Mel: Gender fluid robot?

Ashley: Maybe. I tend to I guess cut back my dialogue a lot. Because I’m like oh, it’s too wordy. No one says that in real conversation. And I cut it back too much to like: Yes. No. Happy. Good. I’m like oh no, no, no. Too far!

Mel: [laughs] Yeah. I find whenever I’m reading someone’s work, that they have their own kind of like ‘buzz words’. And they’re words I wouldn’t use, but they use it over and over and over again in their work. And, other people have like weird sort of sentence cadence, and like Ash said, if you read it aloud, it’s like their style. I’m like, this is not how I would write it, but obviously this person’s style is… that. Some people use these really short sentences, other people like to connect their sentence with therefore and rather, and ten semi-colons, and I’m like OK, this is a lot!

Sarah: We’re guilty of semi-colons in our writing.

Ashley: The dreaded… I was gonna say the dreaded semi-colons.

Mel: Yeah [laughs]. And it’s OK, it’s OK, it might just be your style, or the character you’re portraying. I think, I looked at some Charles Dickens writing, and it was exhausting. I couldn’t even process it. And like, it’s great, that’s a style thing, right? And you don’t want to take that style away, if you change Moby Dick to oh, there was a whale. And I mean, you know that’s no style whatsoever, and you’d be going way too far if that’s what you did to Moby Dick.

Sarah: Just massacre a classic work.

Mel: Just massacre a classic work. Exactly, exactly. So for me, um, I know that I’ve gone too far if I’ve changed their sentence cadence, or if I’ve changed all the links of their sentences kinda to be robotic? And, yeah. So that’s… I don’t know.

Sarah: Yeah. I think there does become a point where it gets that robotic flatness, and attributions can play a part of this. I started deleting as many as I kind of could, because that we had like, too many. Like sometimes you read through like he said, she said, he said, she said. And you’re like holy crap, what is going on here? But… so I started deleting some of them. And then when I read over it again, I was like, wait. Who is speaking? And so then I had to like go back to a previous draft and be like, oh, I’d better add that one back in!

Mel: So, um, I guess I don’t get the opportunity to over-edit. I only get one pass over something and I get a short timeframe to do it, but do you guys ever find yourselves over-editing? How do you stop that?

Ashley: I um, Sarah kind of explained her way of editing before, and she goes through it as she said, editing like major things and then going back through it again and changing other bits. I tend to go through it… I’ll read something through first, and then I will try only doing one pass through the manuscript and change everything as I go. So I’ll go chapter by chapter, and I’ll do whatever major changes need to happen, and I’ll read the chapter through again, usually with Grammarly or some software turned on to pick up any other mistakes I’ve made, especially with the new bits, and any weird mistakes sort of left behind which we talked about before. Um, and then I’ll move onto the next chapter, and I try not to go back. And once I’ve gone through the whole manuscript, I read it once more, and then I tend to leave it. Because, basically from our first book, we went over it so many times, I learned from then, I just need to stop and leave it for a while. Uh, because otherwise you get carried away.

Mel: You mentioned Grammarly. Can we have a little cheeky vote, in favor of and against?

Ashley: K.

Sarah: Like have you… have you used it Mel?

Mel: I have. I run… so I run like word editor and Grammarly and I do my own check as well. So, I’ll be scrolling through someone’s work and all these things will be highlighting and my poor computer will be having a bit of a heart attack. And I’m like, OK, OK. We can do this guys! Let’s get all these programs running, all at one time. I use it more as a tool, to point out places where there’s double words, because those are really hard to pick out, if you write ‘the’ twice. Your brain skips one. So I use it for spelling errors, I use it for British versus American spelling. And, I really do not like the ‘make more concise’ [laughs].

Ashley: Oh my God.

Mel: Oh gosh, no.

Ashley: When it tells you you’ve been practicing? When you make a correction and it decides it’s all right, like you’ve been practicing. I’m like, I hate you so much.

Mel: It’s a bit condescending.

Ashley: It’s so con—no OK, what got me was it… I think it’s the Levi chapter in Darkness, Set Us Free, he talks about [how] there’s some guards manning these doors, and Grammarly highlighted it. And I’m like, what’s wrong with that? It’s a perfectly fine word, it’s used correctly, why have you highlighted it? And I clicked on it, and it said: This is not a gender-neutral term. Some people may be offended.

Mel: Oh my gosh!

Ashley: And I’m like, I don’t care! That is staying. Ignore, ignore. Turn off corrections like this.

Sarah: That’s hilarious.

Ashley: I was so… I was like so mad. Just so mad.

Mel: I have a lot of um, particularly wordy. You know…

Ashley: Yes.

Mel: And I’m like, I can’t… I can’t change that.

Ashley: A lot of unnecessary words. I’m like, grr. I mainly use it—it’s quite good at finding spots where commas are missing or added. Obviously lots of them are wrong, but it picks them up so I can make that choice.

Mel: Yes, yes.

Ashley: And it’s also helpful because… one it’s annoying but it does bring up when you have an unclear… like he, she, they, where it can’t place it. Most of the time it doesn’t affect our book but occasionally it does pick it up and I’m like, oh actually, there’s three guys talking here, and it says ‘he’.

Sarah and Mel: Yeah.

Ashley: And, if I… if it hadn’t picked it up I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Cause in my mind I know already who’s talking. So I found that helpful. But there… it’s really sassy.

Sarah: Sassy! [laughs]

Ashley: And there is a lot of stuff that’s blatantly wrong.

Sarah: So, I think that would drive me insane. I haven’t actually used Grammarly so I’m probably… can’t really vote on it exactly, but I have like a different process. What I will do is I’ll like, highlight a section of text, like a page at a time, and then I’ll get my computer to read it back to me. So I can kind of listen to it. And obviously it reads it back devoid of personality, but um, which is sometimes good. You can kind of work out if a scene is rich enough in detail to interest you despite the computer. So I find that kind of helpful.

Mel: OK. I have heard of people doing that, and it does help a lot of people.

Sarah: Yeah I play with the voices and stuff. Who am I going to use to do Dylan’s voice. I’ll be like, Alex from the U.S. or whatever. And then I’ll be like, who am I gonna use to do Lizzie’s. Samantha? Oh no, I don’t like Samantha. Let’s try the South African one. It’s hilarious!

Ashley: That’s amazing. Oh my gosh!

Mel: Love it!

Sarah: So it’s a lot of fun.

Ashley: Another amusing thing that actually does work. Uh, so one of our beta readers is James, my husband. And he’s actually dyslexic. But it’s really helpful to have him read our novel, because he picks up on all of the words that are used wrong. Cause he’ll be reading it… and because he reads it so carefully, because obviously he struggles to read so he’ll read a word and he’ll read a word and be like is it… you know, staring at the page for like thirty seconds and he’s like, I don’t know if it’s my dyslexia, but is this word correct? And I’ll look and be like, oh no no no! It’s wrong! And he’s like, ah. That makes sense then. And he like circles it. He’s actually picked up a lot through that.

Sarah: That’s good!

Ashley: Yeah! It’s actually really good.

Mel: I was proofreading a dairy farming newsletter yesterday. And someone had written in their little article… unfortunately they were not talking about dairy farming, they were talking about diary forming.

Sarah: [laughs]

Mel: Diary forming, versus dairy farming.

Ashley: Yes!

Mel: You know, I just figured… and the… their marketing and proofreading team did not pick up on it. I was like, diary forming has nothing to do with dairy farming!

Sarah: That’s funny.

Ashley: Maybe before we leave the topic of over-editing, because we have a proof-reader with us, Mel do you want to maybe offer any tips or tricks that you’ve picked up along the way?

Mel: Oooh, hand tips and tricks. OK, so… I passed on a couple tips to an ESL student recently, but it really could stand for anyone. They asked me, oh you know, after reading my work, I’d really like to improve. Ah, what could you… what can you tell me to improve? And I was like, well that’s kind of difficult without sitting down with someone and saying, let’s go through your work together, or let’s have a bit of a talk about it or a dialogue, but I was like OK, I’ll email you some tips then. And so what I passed on was, find your crutch words. I know that you guys have probably talked about this before, and maybe you discussed it a little bit? But, think of words like: rather, like…

Ashley: Just.

Sarah: That.

Mel: Very. Um, really.

Sarah: A little.

Mel: Yeah, a little. There we go! There we go! Crutch words all over the show. So identify them, and literally like, control F, find them all, and remove them. And then really sit down and think, what might be better in their place. Sometimes, no you really can’t change it for anything, but I think at least if you’re consciously deciding, and not just throwing in a word because you use it all the time and it’s easy… that improves your writing and in turn it saves on editing a little bit. And then, secondly, like Sarah had just mentioned that she gets her computer to read her prose back, I suggest to people to say it out loud. I think a lot of editing, especially with academic theses but also with novels, you want to be clear and have your reader understand what you’re actually trying to say. So what my tip is, is write it just like you’d say it, because obviously then it’s going to be clear. Then you can review it. Because hey! Like, you’re the author! Great! It also means that you can use whatever you want, word and wise, but I think if you just say what you mean, then you can play with it however you want, and it will probably make a lot more sense and you’ll have an easier time of it. But, yeah! That’s kind of my couple of tips that I think anyone could implement in their writing.

Ashley: Oh definitely, definitely.

Sarah: I um, I started using the computer because I used to do the read out loud thing, but when you’re trying to read… heh, a whole manuscript, it becomes a bit tricky, so I was like, there must be an easier way to do this.

Mel: Yeah.

Sarah: And then I was like, yes. I’ll get the computer to do it. And then I don’t have to listen to myself drone on and on and on!

Mel: Yep.

Sarah: And instead, I just listen to the computer drone on and on and on! Ninety percent of the time, if they’ve tripped over a word it’s because it’s like, written wrong. The other ten percent of the time it’s just because the computer is weird.

Ashley and Mel: [laughs]

Ashley: It’s just that one word it can’t say. It’s like, I’ve given up. It just makes a weird glitchy noise, you’re like oops.

Sarah: Like the Maori words.

Ashley: Oh no!

Sarah: Place names and stuff. I did have one other thing before we leave the topic.

Ashley: Yeah.

Sarah: So what I have heard, especially listening to The Story Grid Podcast, what came up was the editor, Shaun Coyne, he was like, well a lot of first time writers can’t let go of that first novel. And I was like, oh God, that’s totally us!

Mel: Oh no!

Sarah: But, do you guys think there is any point in any particular project where you should just say, no that’s it, we give up, we’re putting that aside and starting something new, or whether you need to totally restructure it and write it fresh. Like, do you think that there’s a point where instead of editing and editing and editing, you should look at it and be like, yeah this really needs some serious work, from like the bones.

Mel: Like a walk the plank abandon point?

Sarah: Yeah! Should you just shoot yourself now!

Ashley: Oh, that’s a tough one. I can imagine a situation where that would be the case. I don’t know what that point would be though. I feel… like with our first book, we left it for many years before we went back to it. And when we went back to it we did wholesale structural changes, and entirely redid it. It’s barely recognizable from what it used to be.

Mel: Did you keep your same storyline?

Sarah: We did. Mainly.

Ashley: Mainly.

Sarah: Sometimes, I think I’m always a bit scared of that.

Ashley: Yeah! I guess me too.

Sarah: I think if you have an idea, most ideas are workable if you put it into the right structure and the right sort of context, and you do the work behind it. I kind of think there maybe comes a point if you’re sending it away to agents and book publishers, and you’re not hearing anything back, I do think there’s a point where you have to look at it and be like, well. This probably isn’t my best work if no one’s responding to it. But, you can still maybe make something of it if you want to self-publish it. Which you know, we might do eventually if we don’t get any bites on it! Because I think that you know, people will enjoy the story, but we might not you know, reach that mark we set out to do, or maybe it might not sell as much as a publisher might want it to. And I think it’s wise, having that sort of end point in mind, and being realistic about that part of it? But if you love it, why not self-publish.

Mel: I think being realistic is… it’s got to come into play at some point.

Ashley: Mhmm.

Mel: You know, if someone handed me a thesis that was… you know didn’t have any substance. And twenty thousand words of filler words, I don’t know what I would tell them. I could proofread it for them, but there’s a point where it’s like, you might have to really go back into the lab, or you might need to start again because you don’t have enough here. Or, it’s not going to pass, right?

Sarah: Yep.

Mel: And I guess the examiners would tell them that. And I haven’t had to tell anyone yet that their work isn’t going to past. But I’ve sent sections back and said to them, this won’t even pass the submissions… your submissions meeting. And said to them, I understand you want to hand this in tomorrow, but they will make you sit in that meeting room, and fix it on the spot. So if you want it to be proofread or something, or have someone else look at it, I suggest that you rewrite it now!

Sarah: Oh dear. All the talk of academic writing brings me back. I always wanted to do like, Bachelor of Arts or something. But then, my parents were too you know… like what are you… where is this headed?

Mel: [laughs]

Sarah: They were too practical. And I enjoyed nursing as well. But it’s always like, how would I have been, if I had done that?

Mel: What would have happened?

Ashley: I often wonder…

Sarah: What is this alternative universe where Sarah is a BA student?

Ashley: Well I wanted to do Classical Studies, so dunno.

Mel: Classical Studies.

Ashley: Yeah, I was so close to doing Classical Studies. I even got accepted into the program and everything, and then I changed.

Mel: Oh wow.

Ashley: Someone said to me, what are you going to do with Classical Studies? And I was like, I don’t know but I’m going to learn all of the Classics. And then they’re like maybe you should do something else and learn about Classics on the side. And I was like, mmm. Might have a point.

Sarah: I never knew that.

Ashley: Yeah, I don’t know. I def—I applied which is hilarious. I found my letters of acceptance. I was like, oooh, I got accepted into the Classical Studies program.

Mel: Oh my gosh. I was… I was one and done. I was too cheap to fork out another fifty bucks to apply for another program. So, I don’t… I still don’t know what I want to do. But I applied for… what was it. Biomedical Sciences and I was like, right! One degree, one university. And if I don’t get in, well then I don’t know what I’m doing, but…

Sarah: Did it… did it cost money?

Mel: One and done.

Sarah: Cause I…

Mel: Yeah, yeah it did!

Sarah: Cause I like, you know, I did that year of premed, in like twenty fifteen or something, I don’t remember it costing anything! And I actually got into pharmacy after that, and I was like ah, nah… I’ll just stick with nursing. But…

Mel: Ah, yeah. I had to pay another fifty dollars to apply for another program, and I was like, no. Why would I do that?

Sarah: That’s nuts. That must be something they… do they still do that?

Ashley: I have no idea.

Mel: I think… to apply to most universities out of school, there’s an application fee. It’s not that expensive, like it’s nothing like the states or anything, but…

Ashley: I should probably know that. I work at one, but…

Sarah: I never knew that!

Ashley: Right.

Sarah: Anyways, mistakes of the month.

Mel: Oh boy!

Ashley: Yes! I didn’t actually have many this month, because I was dealing with a fairly polished manuscript, so I thought I’d share one from my thesis since Mel proofreads theses and I did not have a proofreader for my thesis. So, I will share one of those. So in a science based theses, there’s an experimental section at the back of thesis. Mine was about fifty odd pages, and details pretty much every single experiment done, and the ways… because I did chemistry, we have to talk about how we purify compounds. So I had over a hundred compounds in there, over fifty-five pages of experimental.

Mel: Oh my gosh.

Ashley: And we use a technique called chromatography. And in chromatography, the thing we use to do it is called silica gel. And for some reason, my—I had typed ‘silica get’. And from that point on, every time I wrote gel, it autocorrected to get.

Mel: Noooo!

Ashley: So throughout my entire experimental, over a hundred compounds, and over fifty-five pages in length, every single one of them said using silica get instead of silica gel. I didn’t pick up on it, my supervisor didn’t pick up on it, it wasn’t until it went to the examination panel, and the examiners picked up on it.

Sarah: Oh God!

Mel: Oh no.

Ashley: And… yeah. They wrote back to me and the said—because they give you a report of all your errors. And there was this one, it was written in red and highlighted in bold, and I was like oh my gosh, what have I done? And they’re like, um did you mean silica gel? Question mark. This was unclear. And I was like, oh my gosh!

Mel: Oh no!

Ashley: So, maybe get someone to proofread your work. Also, watch out for auto-correct.

Mel: Yep. Yep I’m a big proofreading advocate.

Ashley: So…

Mel: And you can’t proofread your own work. So…

Ashley: Well I skipped it. And, to be honest I’m kind of surprised the examiners found it, because that means they would have read my experimental section, which I thought they might have skipped over, but no.

Sarah: Skimmed.

Ashley: Nope. And they highlighted every single one in the manuscript.

Mel: Oh gosh.

Sarah: And they like, word search it especially. Like aha!

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Pretty much! What about you Sarah?

Sarah: So I had a few, which was kind of surprising because it was quite polished. But the ones I did find were very like, obscure. But they did give me a few giggles. So, before finishing [The] Price of Pandemonium, one of them was: “My shoulders relaxed, the knots loosened in my neck, and let out a slow breath.”

Mel: [laughs]

Ashley: Oh no.

Sarah: I mean it’s such a simple thing, but having a subject, especially when you’ve got commas in the sentence, because I’ve noticed that we sometimes do this, and I think there’s a specific term for it. But, you do have to be careful sometimes, after a comma, making sure your sentence has a subject, or then it becomes attributed to the subject that’s before the comma. Because I haven’t really heard of knots in anyone’s necks letting out slow breaths!

Mel: I’ll second that!

Sarah: Yeah, I found that quite funny. I was just imagining, you know, these tied up knots in someone’s neck going Aaaaaahhhhhh! And yeah, that was enough to send me into giggles.

Ashley: Imagine them having these little cartoon faces!

[Lots of immature giggling]

Sarah: So the other ones that I had… it was also… it seemed to be a theme with objects being impersonated [meant to say personified here. Whoops]. Which was, “His automatic rifle sung across his back.” I haven’t quite heard of musical rifles singing before… so…

Mel: No, no.

Ashley: Just musical rifles in general.

Mel: Musical rifles. It sounds like an extreme party game.

Sarah: Someone should create that. That could be quite a selling point.

Mel: You could have them in like a military drill. Musical rifles and you just you know…

Sarah: Yeah!

Ashley: I imagine you shooting, and there’s suddenly triumphant music that starts playing, afterwards!

Sarah: Da na na nah, da na na nah!

Mel: Yeah!

Ashley: Target practice.

Sarah: Could be quite epic, you know.

Mel: This is war, but with a musical note. War the musical.

Ashley: Just imagining the Star Wars imperial march!

Mel: Total sidenote, has anyone seen the ‘Supernatural: The Musical’ episode?

Ashley: Ah…oooh.

Mel: It’s with like high-school girls…

Sarah: I have not.

Ashley: I don’t think so.

Mel: You guys need to watch this.

Ashley: I must watch it. I love Supernatural, so…

Mel: It’s like a recap of the road so far, but in musical version.

Sarah: I should… I should watch it.

Mel: You must watch it. It’s great.

Sarah: I haven’t… I can’t even remember what season I was up to. I like got to a point and then I just stopped. But…

Mel: It is worth it. If you want to take an hour out of your day.

Ashley: What season? Fourteen?

Mel: Uh, I do not remember. But it is Supernatural, The Musical, and it is… it is great.

Ashley: Very exciting. I must be close because I think I’m in season thirteen somewhere, so it must be somewhere around there.

Sarah: Wow, you guys have kept up with this!

Ashley: Oh, when I had…

Mel: We stopped and started several times.

Ashley: I handed in my thesis, like ages ago, when I handed it in. And then, I couldn’t start my job until I had done my thesis defense. And there was six months between them. So I wasn’t working, I wasn’t doing anything, and so I said this is the time, to rewatch all of Supernatural.

Mel: Yep.

Ashley: So I started at season one. It took a full six months, watching three a day, to catch up, to get to the point…

Sarah: Holy crap!

Ashley: Yeah, it was crazy. So I got that far, and then I was exhausted, and now they’re a few seasons ahead of me and so now I’m behind again.

Sarah: Oh dear.

Mel: Oh no!

Sarah: I’ve got one more just… bringing us back.

Ashley: Yeah, go for it!

Sarah: I just got one more mistake of the month. Which is: “Dylan crawled out from under a log.”

Mel: What?

Ashley: Impressive.

Mel: Did the log fall on him? Did he… did he at one point crawl under it?

Sarah: He was hiding. And apparently he was hiding underneath the log.

Mel: Oh my goodness! [laughs]

Sarah: So, you know, I changed that to Dylan…

Ashley: To behind or something.

Sarah: …crawled out from behind the log, yeah.

Mel: Behind sounds more realistic, at least. Ah, love it!

Ashley: I’m just imagining… what’s the horror movie where the girl clambers out from behind the television?

Sarah: Oh, The Ring.

Ashley: That’s kind of what I’m imagining but Dylan like, coming out from the ground.

Mel: [laughs]

Ashley: The Ring. There we go, I don’t watch horror movies so.

Mel: I do not watch horror movies.

Sarah: I watched that like years ago. Yeah, anyways, I think… do you guys have anything else that you want to add?

Mel: I guess… oh! I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. I… I… I hope it wasn’t a mistake, but I had a whole thesis on penetrating butt welds.

Sarah: [laughs]

Mel: And turns out, I’m not mature enough to go through and read that in every single sentence, and not laugh. It was an engineering thesis, structural engineer, and he was testing weld strengths, and I don’t know if he invented it…

Sarah: Is that a thing, did you look it up?

Mel: I… you know…

Sarah: Can I just look it up now? I want to know.

Mel: Safe search on, safe search on.

Sarah: [in a strangled voice] Oh yeah, that’s…[laughs] Maybe I won’t search it!

Mel: Because it turns out when you type penetrating and butt in the same sentence…

Sarah: I’m not going to go there. That’s a good point.

Mel: So yeah! That’s what happened to me. So, um, sorry to whoever’s thesis it was, yeah… I and I… I feel it was a mistake on my part to not search it, but… I just… I just didn’t want to see what would happen if I did search that. And so I you know… I really hope that that… it could be legit! They had partially penetrating butt welds, fully penetrating butt welds… and they had different throat sizes. Of. Gaskets. And I was like, come on, please buddy! I was just like, I can’t handle this. I was just like, I sure hope that as a PhD engineering student you know your terminology. So I just put a note and I said, double check all specialist terminology for accuracy, please! [laughs]. Love it, love it.

Sarah: Ah, God.

Mel: Ah dear.

Sarah: Anyways. So, um… Mel, how should people get ahold of you, sort of if they want anything proofread?

Mel: Oh! If you want to utilize my services? Uh, yeah. Head over to our website, it’s, and fill out our form submission, check your spam mail, the usual. And I’ll… you’ll reach me, and so I’ll get in contact with you. But yup, I’m always here, and… yeah.

Sarah: And, the other question I have to ask you, because this is more of a creative space is, if someone did want to send their creative work to you, you’d welcome that? And…

Mel: Yep!

Sarah: What would you sort of have to… to offer them, as well?

Mel: Absolutely, absolutely! So, yep creative works are absolutely fine. I can do a full proofread, as I said, I can look at copy-editing. I never actually change anyone’s words. I will point out sections where, you know, somethings unclear. Or suggest the use of a different word. I might point out your crutch words and say, you know, we’ve used big twelve times in the last sentence. Let’s not use ‘more huge.’ But, yeah. So, I go with the ‘working with the writer’ approach, because at the end of the day, you’re the author, and I’m just here to support what you want to do creatively. So, yeah. It’s always a conversation, it’s a back and forth, and yeah. That’s how we work.

Sarah: Cool! Ashley, so what are we talking about next time?

Ashley: Oooh! We’re actually going to have a bit of a problem section, and we’re going to talk through the ways we solve plot problems, which should be real interesting.

Sarah: Yes.

Ashley: And very sort of I guess, on topic, with what we’re working on now, because Sarah and I are having a look at our new novel… so. We’re going to be doing a whole bunch of work on the new plot for our novel. So, I think it will be very…

Sarah: Brainstorming and structuring I think is going to be melded in there. Yeah. I had some ideas but I guess we’ll explore that next time!

Ashley: Yes, so I think it should be very interesting.

Mel: [laughs]

Sarah: Yep.

Ashley: Looking… looking forward to it.

Mel: That sounds exciting.

Sarah: Yeah. As usual, to find us, you can get us on under our contact form, and we always sort of check the email that that goes to very regularly, and yeah.

Ashley: Otherwise you can find us on Facebook or Instagram. Just Linderson Creations.

Sarah: Yeah. And so we always look forward to hearing from everyone, and if you have any mistakes of the month that you’d like to include from your own work… I know it sounds terrible, trying to make fun of it, but again, the reason we sort of brought that up in the first place was because that sometimes it can be quite hard, looking at your work versus other people’s work. And so this is our way of sharing, like this is our problems that we have, and not every work is perfect from the get go. That never happens. You always have to go through your first draft and your edits, and yeah.

Ashley: OK everyone, I hope you enjoyed todays podcast, and big thanks to Mel for joining us today for our discussion.

Mel: Thank you for the invite.

Ashley: Awesome. Happy writing everyone.