Grammar: How to Learn What You Don’t Know

This is what I did.

In 2008 I attended the Humber School For Writers correspondent course. Joan Barfoot was my mentor.

The course is designed so a professional writer works with the student on a manuscript.

I thought I knew all about punctuation and grammar until Joan pointed out I didn’t know how to use a comma.

In my mind, I was using the pesky little mark correctly. But how would I know unless someone else pointed it out to me?

My point. You need someone your trust, who knows grammar and punctuation, to give you an honest review of your talent.

Then . . .


Perfection doesn’t come for free.

Do you have any tips for figuring out what you don’t know?

Thanks for reading . . .

Copyediting – Proofreading Process (Part Three)

We are finally getting to the end of the second reading of a manuscript. Thank you to everyone who commented on the previous two blogs. It’s great to add new ideas to my process.

In Proofreading Process (Part One) and Copyediting – Proofreading Process (Part Two) I covered my process for the first and second reading of a manuscript. In the comments section of the blogs you can find lots of interesting ideas on the subject.

Today, I’m going to cover a few more technical areas and finish off the second reading. In the next blog, I’ll cover areas that involve making suggestions to an author but aren’t hard rules.

What about Mom and Dad?

Search for mom, dad, aunt, uncle, etc. and check if they are capitalized correctly. The capitalization of the first letter is easy to type wrong and difficult for the eye to see. A global search will force you to look at each case.

Mom is capitalized for direct address.

“Hey, Mom. I got a tattoo.”

Mom is not capitalized when referring to her.

“My mom doesn’t like my tattoo. Can you believe that?”


Acronyms should be added to your “list” as you read the manuscript. Then it’s easy to check if they are written in a consistent manner. For example:

PH.D or PhD or P.H.D.

AM or am or a.m.

It’s a good idea to check the style manual the author uses and pick the format from there.

Dialogue Format

When editing dialogue pay attention to punctuation and capitalization.

  • Is the punctuation inside the end quote correct?
  • Is the first word after the end quote capitalized when it shouldn’t be?

Correct: “I love my new car,” she said.

Incorrect: “I love my new car.” She said. (Did you notice the 2 errors?)

Correct: “Why did you steal my car?” he asked.

Incorrect: “Why did you steal my car?” He asked.

Possessive or Plural?

Look for words ending in ‘s’ and check if they were meant to be possessive or plural. Remember, it’s the dog’s tail, not the dogs tail – unless there are multiple dogs that share one tail, but then it would be the dogs’ tail. Now that I think about it, I guess that creature could exist in a fantasy or sci-fi novel.

The Dreaded Comma

I used to think I knew how to use a comma. Ha ha. The joke was on me. During my mentorship program with Joan Barfoot through the HSW Correspondence Program, Joan kindly pointed out I needed to learn how to use a comma.  I literally spent two months studying the comma. I guess the saying– you don’t know what you don’t know – is true. I can’t thank Joan enough for pointing this out to me.

I won’t go into the comma rules as there are enough books on the topic, but I wanted to mention how important the pesky little punctuation mark is. To create a professional looking manuscript, it’s worth the effort to learn how to use the comma.

What’s next?

Phew. I feel sweat dripping down my forehead. We are finally at the end of the second reading. The next blog, you guessed it, will start with the third reading.

I’m keeping track of suggestions and comments, and in the final blog in this series, I will post all the great ideas people have been generous enough to send me. I used some of the ideas to proofread this blog. I hope you don’t find a typo 🙂

Thanks for reading . . .

How I Signed with a Literary Agent

I signed with Margaret Hart of the HSW Literary Agency last July (2011). We met at the Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop.

Sounds easy, but it was a long journey to get there.  I attended the Humber School For Writers correspondence course with Joan Barfoot as my mentor. At the completion of that program my novel wasn’t ready to submit to an agent.

Throughout the course I compiled many tips from Joan and used these to improve my writing.

After spending a week with Mary Gaitskill at the summer workshop in 2010, Mary introduced me to Margaret, and she kindly agreed to read Fracture Line. I spent another month updating the manuscript, this time based on comments from Mary Gaitskill, before sending it to Margaret.

Margaret’s first feedback was that she liked the novel, but I had to pick up the pace. I asked a few specific questions about what she meant and then got to work. Four months and a lot of rewriting later, I resubmitted Fracture Line. This time Margaret was happy and she offered me a contract.

There are many ways to sign with a literary agency, but getting connected through the Humber School for Writers sure helped me. If your interested, the summer workshop is starting July 7, 2012.

Literary Mentors

How do you get one? #writetip The Crime Writers of Canada(CWC) offers a mentorship program each fall. To apply all you have to do is send in an application, your bio, a synopsis and ten pages of your novel.

I’ve just been notified that my mentor is David Cole, author of the Laura Winslow Mysteries.

I’m using my third novel, (working title Burnt) for this program. David and I will work together on improving the first 50 pages.

My first experience with a mentorship program was the Humber School for Writers when I had Joan Barfoot as my mentor. I believe this helped me get my manuscript into shape and accepted by my agent, Margaret Hart.

The mentors from CWC offer up their time and knowledge for free, proving the  generosity in the writing community is unbounded. Thanks to David and the other mentors for helping those of us at earlier stages in our careers.

I’ll blog about what I learn and how this program works out for me.

– A very excited mentee signing off for a day of writing.