Tips to avoid common SPAG mistakes

(here is an excerpt from one of the many excellent instructive Now Novel blog posts)
To avoid common spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes:
Run your writing through a language checker. For example, Word’s built-in editor, Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Tools won’t catch everything (and will often false-flag non-issues such as writing where you’ve deliberately used a different region’s spelling), but you’ll catch sneaky typos that snuck in.
Edit from print copy. Many writers swear by printing out proof copies to work from. The switch from digital to physical print has benefits – there’s no ‘infinite scroll’, for one, encouraging you to scan through too hastily. It’s like seeing the text with new eyes after a break.
Consult style and grammar guides. A good style guide such as Strunk & White’s Elements of Style or The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing is useful to have in your collection, as well as go-to spelling and other reference resources such as dictionaries and thesauruses.
Keep a checklist of SPAG errors you make habitually. It may be incorrect comma placement, using dangling modifiers, or another error. Going through to check for a list of errors and ticking them off may help you make error-nuking a more satisfying, systematic process.
Read widely. The more you read, the better your innate sense of good SPAG will become.
Get feedback. Many members in Now Novel’s crit community pinpoint spelling, punctuation and grammar issues (you choose whether to ask for feedback on this category in the flow of crit submission).


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Start...or Finish that Book NOW with Now Novel

One of the earliest lessons we learn while growing up is to "choose the right tool for the job." If your job is writing a novel, you not only need a "typewriter" (these days probably a laptop or PC) and at the very least a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word. But what about some other, more sophisticated author-assist tools?

One such tool is Now Novel, a comprehensive and well-organized website that offers advice, support, and an author "dashboard" that helps you stay organized and keep track of your writing progress.

Founded by published author, editor, and writing coach Bridget McNulty, Now Novel is designed to help aspiring authors finish writing their books. The site offers a step-by-step brainstorming process for finding story ideas and outlining, short writing courses, author coaching, and a friendly critique community where authors of all interests and experience levels gather to share and hone their craft. Now Novel describes itself this way:

  • Helpful:  Guided writing prompts help you plan and structure your story ideas
  • Organized:  View your planning progress in sidebars as you draft
  • Connected:  Connect and learn craft in live writing webinars and critique groups
  • Motivating:  Get pro critique, exclusive news, and help when you need perspective

For those still in the planning stage, Now Novel has a basic free membership level that can help you get the novel-writing ball rolling. Now Novel's "central idea wizard" is a tool designed to help you brainstorm. Once you've nailed down your concept you can store it securely and also create one character profile on the writing dashboard. You also have access to the Now Novel community for sharing ideas and critiques and get a feel for the challenges ahead.

I checked out the idea wizard, and found it to be a really clever tool that helps you formulate and combine ideas with prompts and suggestions. It also recommended a selection of blog-posted articles about getting your novel started. The whole site is impressive and already has a community of over 13,000 users.

Now I just needed to find a success story -- and after hearing about a Now Novel user who scored a three-book deal for her romantic suspense trilogy -- I contacted the author, Eva Fox Mate, and asked how she got started with Now Novel and what convinced her it would be helpful.

EFM: In the spring of 2020, as Covid was ramping up, I quit my job and decided to dedicate myself to trying to get "that book" I always wanted to write underway. I found Now Novel soon thereafter by way of a Google search. I was drawn in by their dashboard and its plotting help, and soon found myself wading into my first book.

However, I had no idea whether it was good, bad, or in between, so I signed up for Now Novel's personal coaching, hoping to get some good feedback. Boy, did I! My coach, Romy Sommer, has been invaluable, helping me with everything from characterization to grammar, to navigating the publishing world. I can honestly say her advice has been spot on throughout and I owe her more than words can say. Thanks to Now Novel, I not only gained a coach, but a good friend.

IP: Have you used any other novel writing tools? What is your writing set-up?

EFM: I haven't used any other tools, per se, but I am a bit of a webinar and on-line class junkie. Now Novel's webinars are fantastic, but I also sign up for any free-of-charge or reasonably priced offering, whether it be on building characters, plotting, time management — you name it and I'll probably sign up for it! As to my set-up, I have a home office and that's where I write, five days a week, for approximately 4-5 solid hours a day. I write down plot points long-hand (each of my books has its own notebook), but I write directly into the computer.

IP: What are your favorite aspects of Now Novel and how does it help you the most?

EFM: The dashboard and blogs are fun to use/read, but the personal coaching was the big thing for me. It cost just enough money to hold me accountable (but was reasonable enough that I could sign-up in the first place), and the one-on-one, on-line sessions with Romy, as well as her developmental and line edits, were top-notch and very helpful. I also love, love, love the writing sprints! It's not just dedicated working time, it's a supportive group of other dedicated authors. All things considered, I feel I got a bargain!

IP: Will you continue to use Now Novel to accomplish writing your trilogy?

EFM: I would not hesitate to use Now Novel for each and every book I have in me! They've been great. Not only do they provide terrific plotting tools, the entire staff is friendly and accessible, their coaches are knowledgeable and professional, and their pricing is, as I said, a bargain when you consider what you get in return. There are other writing programs out there, and some may be as good as Now Novel, but I think it's their people that make it the right choice. You truly have an entire team on your side!

* * * * *

So, it turns out that writing a novel doesn't have to be an isolated, lonely task. Many revered and successful novelists have spoken with gratitude about their editors and other collaborators. That said, it is also true that many aspiring authors are shy, "bookish" types that aren't very good at meeting people and establishing relationships. The writing sprints that Eva mentions above are a key part of the community effort, and are similar to the annual NaNoWriMo event that helps authors set and meet timeframe and word-count goals. Now Novel uses similar processes with its coaching and community offerings on a year-round basis, encouraging members to keep motivated and stay on track.

"A few years back, we assessed our customer offerings and discovered that personal interaction with our team -- through coaching, group coaching, webinars, or feedback critiques -- provided the most value," says Now Novel co-founder Brendan McNulty. "So, we decided to focus more on this aspect and emphasize the importance of people and the personal touch."

"Although we're excited about AI developments, specifically in  exploring its potential to help prompt authors when they're stuck and offer feedback, we don't believe it can replace the value of personal touch. Conversing with others in a sprint who are facing similar challenges or receiving feedback from coaches who have been in your shoes provides invaluable motivation."

"Our focus at Now Novel is to continue enhancing our community, explore AI while helping visitors stay motivated in their writing journey. Writing a book can be tough, and we're dedicated to providing support to keep people's momentum going."


* * * * *

Read a recent Now Novel blog post, "How an Online Writers’ Community Grows Skill"

See a YouTube video featuring coach Romy Sommer: