Yesterday a had a conversation that went, in part, like this:
ME: Your idea is good, and your protagonist is quite original and fun. One thing I would recommend is to research commonly confused words.
HER: It doesn’t matter. The reader will know what I mean.
ME: But it does matter. If you want to be taken seriously in your craft, you have to learn which word is appropriate in any given sentence.
HER: That’s what my editor is for.
ME: You have an editor?
HER: Not yet, but publishers have them, right?
ME: That’s kinda my point. If you want a publisher to find the wonderfulness of your content, you cannot let him or her be bogged down by the errors. There are too many people with wonderfulness out there. Fix what you can before you query.
HER: [blank stare]
It didn’t get better. And she is not the only one I have had this conversation with lately.
I was recently picked up by Flashpoint for my first novel. Before this monumental accomplishment, I queried a group of publishers, listened to their feedback, tweaked and tightened grammar and content, and repeated. My attention to detail did not make my manuscript perfect. Far from it. I will still be reworking parts and following the guidelines of my editor, but it was as clean and crisp as I could possibly make it.
For my friend above, her glaring error on page one was the use of the word “there” when she should have used “their,” and on page three was the use of the word “advice” when she should have used “advise.” One may have been forgiven, but two in three pages? Not so much.
If you know that you have trouble with commonly confused words, do a word search in your manuscript.
To get you started, here are a few of the most commonly confused words:
buy (verb) and by (preposition) – When you buy enough groceries to last through NANOWRIMO, you can pay by cash or credit.
breath (noun) and breathe (verb) – Her touch took my breath away. Only when she moved her hand from my shoulder could I breathe again.
hole (noun) and whole (adjective) – A plot hole in my WIP demanded a whole rewrite.
it’s (contraction) and its (possessive) – It’s hard to write sitting in a chair when its old and broken down.
now (adverb) and know (verb) – Now I know writing is hard if it is done right.
quiet (adjective) and quite (adverb) – The girls were quite mesmerized by the woman and remained quiet while she read from her newest book.
through (preposition) and threw (verb) – She looked through all of her old magazines to find the article on character sketches, but it turned out her wife threw it out.
to (proposition or part of an infinitive verb), too (adverb), and two (number) – For two days it has been too hot in my house to concentrate, so I am headed to the coffee shop to write.
whose (possessive) and who’s (contraction) – Who’s the person I contact to find out whose turn it is to speak at the high school?
your (possessive) and you’re (contraction) – When you’re finished correcting word choice in your WIP, your inner editor will thank you.
Are there other words you have trouble using? How do you tell them apart?