My manuscript editing pet-peeves

Here are some of my editing pet peeves:

  • Confusion about a hyphen, an en dash and an em dash (I love the em dash)
  • Using double spaces instead of single space between sentences (Single spaces, please!)
  • Overuse of ellipses, parentheses, or exclamation marks (It makes your writing look juvenile)
  • Overwriting and keeping phrases and scenes that don’t advance plot (Kill your darlings!)
  • Manuscript that are mis-formatted (How to format: last name and title in the header, page numbers, respect margins, 1.5 to double space the text)

When writing fiction it’s okay to infuse the text with your personal style and voice, but it becomes distracting when writers don’t know the editing basics. I’m working on building a resources page on my blog that will be full of great books and articles to help you in this process.

Image via NYT

Q: What are your big editing pet peeves? 

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

19 thoughts on “My manuscript editing pet-peeves

  1. Using the past progressive tense of verbs instead of simple past tense drives me berserk. It muddies the action and makes everything seem as though it’s happening at the same time, with no beginning or end.
    As in: “Mary was dialling the phone number. Jim was putting his hand on the receiver, trying to stop her, but she was shaking her head.” GAHHHHH!
    Instead: “Mary dialled the phone number. Jim put his hand on the receiver to stop her. She shook her head.”
    I find this is usually how things come out in first draft, when the words flow and you just try to get the scene down. But I revise this kind of thing out every time .


      1. YES! Sentences like: “She shook her head. ‘No,’ she said,” make me nuts, as does “He nodded his head in agreement.” You can only nod your HEAD, and it means YOU AGREE. So, instead: “He nodded.”


  2. Carly,

    You’re one of the few websites I subscribe to. Whereas most repeat each other’s concepts, yours is refreshing and, most of all, consistent. Thank you for all your effort, I look forward to reading that resource page,




  3. It may not be an original pet peeve, but I’m big on avoiding passive voice.

    That double space between sentences is such a deeply ingrained habit for me that I’m not sure how to break it without breaking my flow of writing. Of course, that might just be an excuse; I’ve not really tried too hard to do it! I’m surprised it is that noticeable to you for it to make it onto your top editing pet peeves list. :D


    1. Passive voice is a good thing to steer clear of!

      The double space started in the days of typewriters because the letters were significantly different sizes, but in today’s age of typing this is no longer an issue. So we need to embrace this and move on to single spaces.


  4. I’m happy to see your Resource page book list and surprised at how many of them I’ve read, as well as how many I haven’t. :) Thanks for the recommendations.

    Bad habits developed in writing informal e-mails and blog posts are hard to avoid in manuscripts. I have exclamation marks under control, but ellipses in dialogue are still a big one for me. I don’t worry much about them in rough drafts, but they get a lot of red ink in the revisions.


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