I Left Out What? What That First Line Can Do

I spent the last couple of days editing a chapter for Suzanne Muller to submit for a collection of tips for single women who are looking to find successful, fulfilling relationships. When I sent her the chapter, the first line was missing a word. I also edited her bio for the project. Guess what? The first line had one word too many in it. And I call myself an editor?

Well, yes, I do. I also know I’m human. My daughter even proofread the chapter for me. We both overlooked the missing word in the first line. How could that happen and why is it important?

If you’ve read anything about how to write, you know that the first line of any piece is the most important. It sets the tone for the whole article/blogpost/novel/whatever. It has to be the very best line in your writing. When I’m editing, I hammer that line into the best possible shape. Because I spend more time on it and the first paragraph, my brain begins seeing what’s supposed to be there instead of what is there. If you write much, you are familiar with this phenomenon. If you read much, you’ve probably seen missing words in far too many cases, although hopefully not often in the first line!

What’s to be done about this missing word problem? The simplest is to walk away from the project for at least a couple of hours. That wasn’t an option for Suzanne and I. She got in on the project late and had a very tight deadline. Because it was an awesome opportunity for her, she went for it. I think the difference she makes for people who are looking for their life partners is amazing, so I will do a lot to support her. I took the job, killer deadline and all. It had to go back quickly. Fortunately, Suzanne read it over before she sent it to her editor and caught the missing word. She did the same with her bio. Suzanne’s a very smart consumer when it comes to editing!

She’s also smart about making sure her writing gets the best possible chance of being perfect. She asks people to read over her work and make content suggestions. After including their input, she sends her work off to be edited by me, a professional editor. In this case, she asked me to do a deep edit, where I corrected structural and flow problems, along with grammar and style issues. She and I have worked together before, so she knows I will ensure that her message comes across vividly and in her own voice.

That’s the second thing you can do to catch those missing words: have someone else read it. Aside from your First and Second Readers, you need a deep editor and a proofreader. The deep editor will fix your structure, including re-ordering paragraphs and chapters, if need be, as well as making sure your words are strongs and active. Chances are good that the deep editor will miss grammatical errors like missing commas and misplaced periods. For this kind of work, you need a proofreader. It usually doesn’t work to have one person try to do both, because our brains do see words that aren’t there when we read the same thing over and over. That’s something a deep editor has to do. A proofreader usually makes one or maybe two passes. He or she has a better chance of catching that pesky word!

I know the cost of an editor and a proofreader can be intimidating, particularly for those of you who self-publish. It is, however, the best chance your message has to be communicated the way you envision. Editors and proofreaders are trained to catch and fix problems in your manuscript that could interrupt your reader’s enjoyment of your words. How many times have you been tempted to stop reading a book because it contained so many grammatical errors that you couldn’t stay involved in the story or the information? Don’t let that happen to you! Your message is too important for that.

Can mistakes still slip through? Yes. When you trust your words to someone else, read what you get back. We’re all human and therefore prone to mistakes. As long as your manuscript has been visibly improved and has no more than one or two grammatical booboos, you got your money’s worth. Besides, isn’t it fun to see your words and ideas transformed into something strong and magical? That’s what it’s all about!


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