I love the pink pen

I have an excellent proof reader and some really good first readers. I am always delighted to see pink marks and observations come back on an early draft (or red, or purple – different pens, different people). I prefer pink pen marks because they stands out so well. For me, it’s not that I’ve failed but that the readers have engaged with what they have read.

And that is a wonderful thing.

There is a knack to interpreting teh comments and marks, though. Sometimes they are highlighting a simple spelling mistake, finger slip (like the “teh” in the previous sentence) or dictation hiccup. That’s easy. The spelling mistake is almost always a spell-checker evaded word and the dictation hiccup is normally a homophone or a selection of words I missed but which, as a phrase, are homophonic. Great.

Fix it, move on.

At other times it marks a word that the reader does not know or additional or missing words. Again, pretty straightforward: is the word correct? what’s missing? Too many adverbs? Likewise, great, fix it, move on (we’ll come back to this).

However, at other times there are comments in the margins (the best is a single word: ‘Awkward‘, the second ‘Not needed‘) or underlined words or even phrases with question marks. These are the best. Almost always they suggest the whole paragraph needs editing and restating, possibly even the paragraphs before and after. Sometimes such comments can even come about because the context is not properly established and, again, this means a wider scope of edits as a result of that one comment perhaps going back several pages.

Comments I really like are one’s that say ‘I really like xxxx’, where ‘xxxx’ is a character, situation or plot. I’ve found these must always be checked out for they may mean that a character should be more engaged in the story, or is more important than I realised. It may also mean that the situation is taking over a plot or story point so should be reconsidered in the context of teh overall structure (there’s that “teh” again – in MSWord I’ve programmed the autocorrect to change “teh” to “the”). It is also a signal to ask what the reader liked about it and why because, frankly, it’s something you need to emulate!

But we need to go back to those missing/extra/unknown words. Whilst sometimes they are straightforward, I have frequently found that they highlight areas where much more focus is needed. The question, really, is why did I miss/put in that word. Was it because of awkward paragraph structure or due to clunky description or awkward dialogue? Very often it is this apparently innocent mistake that produces more questions and edits than any other – and leads to much-improved text.

I relish such markings because of what they signify in the future. And I love red or pink pens because they highlight such errors so well.

Thank you pink-pen-wielders, for your wonderful help. May you always scribble on my drafts.

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