As a beginning writer, you are still feeling your way around words, sentences, stories. You might struggle with finding the right words or the best way to say something. You might even struggle with keeping your story together or even just putting it all together. Even experienced writers who have published multiple books and garnered prestigious awards need to work on their manuscripts, sometimes multiple times before it is worthy of sharing or showing to the rest of the world. One continuing debate is whether to check mechanics and grammar before content. As an editor and language teacher, I find it necessary to work on all aspects that need correcting before making another pass to work on improving. What’s the difference? Things that need correcting involve spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If a manuscript contains so many errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation that it is unreadable, it is too difficult to overlook that and focus on more intricate details involving content, consistency, plot, and language. Blatant errors in spelling and grammar prevent our minds from making sense of what is being read. It’s like wading through a stream littered with all sizes of stones and rocks. Rather than wade through the stream, it would be much easier to walk on the banks—which is the literary equivalent of not reading the work—not what any writer would want readers to do.
Misplaced or missing punctuation can change meaning and convey an idea completely different from what was originally meant. A look around you shows signs and other communication lacking punctuation and conveying confusing messages as a result. One of the most common is SLOW MEN WORKING. Literally, this means the men working are slow, which is often the case with government road work. I saw another similar sign, SLOW CHILDREN PLAYING. Now, this could mean the children move slowly as they play, or the children playing in this area are developmentally slow—something that could also apply to the men working. I imagine it could be frustrating for drivers to encounter the sign SLOW PEOPLE CROSSING. If I were the driver, I might think, “How slow are they? Will they take forever? I’m going to be late if I have to wait for all those slow people to finish crossing!” I don’t think any writing mentor, teacher, or editor can ever say this enough: clean up your writing as best you can before you share it with anyone, your editor, included.