Whether you’re writing a short story, blog post, poem or working on a novel, at some point you’re going to have to look back over your own words. This comes at different stages in the process for many of us, but we all have to do it eventually. And its a buggering nightmare, most of the time. Mainly because deep down you know you’re never going to catch it all. There’ll be the odd spelling error, a mistyped phrase, an unnecessary adverb or heaven forbid – a misused semi colon.
To be honest, I’ve been caught out so many times now I tend to laugh it off. Discovering all these things and more days or even weeks after some of my work has gone live is always rather embarrassing. Fortunately, I’ve only ever found myself in the most gentile company of fellow readers and writers, and most of them are very forgiving about obvious mistakes.
But when it comes to my more serious ventures – the ones I intend to make money from, I do everything I can to make sure the text is as polished as possible. And while line and copy editors are a service I think all writers should take advantage of, it never hurts to do as much as you can before handing it off. So here are a few tips and tricks I use to help me weed out even the most easily overlooked mistakes in my prose.
Sometimes it really is as simple as putting the text aside and leaving it alone for a while. Unfortunately, that option isn’t always available to us (I release chapters of my serial every Sunday, for example, so there’s a countdown that means if I don’t have the time to walk away and come back – tough luck) but if it is, this is the best thing you can do. After a week or more most of the details will have left your mind and you’ll go back with fresh eyes. You’ll be amazed at how many things you’ll spot this way, when you actually read the words on the screen, rather than the ones in your head.
Another easy trick is to highlight your work and switch up the font – preferably to one you hardly ever use and whose name you can’t pronounce. Don’t just go from Courier to Times New Roman, go all out! Try Poiret One or Caprum, Pacifico or Armata! The idea is to trick your eyes into thinking they’re looking at something different. Again, you’ll soon be picking up little errors here and there, and waving a fist at them and how they managed to escape your first dozen read throughs.
A New Home
Copy and paste your work, and put the whole thing into a different program. I usually work in Google Docs, so I’ll be used to reading things single spaced with justified paragraphs. But once I transfer the text over to say, Microsoft Word or Scrivener, all that changes. Paragraphs become indented, lines become double spaced, its glorious. And when I look over it again I find a few more triksy mistakes. It works on the same principle as the two methods above – it’s all about fooling your mind into thinking it’s reading something for the first time.
Print a Hardcopy
Yes, yes I know okay? I am constantly reprimanded for this, but I do recycle, honest! I print out most of my manuscripts unless they’re of the flash fiction/short story variety, because being able to sit there with something you can scribble all over is another great way to get a fresh look at what you’ve written. Buy yourself a nice fancy highlighter or a stunning red pen and go to town.
Sound it Out
One of the best tips a fellow writer can ever give you is to read your dialogue out loud, but it works great for whatever you might be looking to publish. If it’s a blog post, go ahead and read it aloud as if you were talking to a friend beside you. If it’s fiction, narrate the whole damn thing as if you were in front of an audience. Take a breath, forget about how silly you might feel and ACT THAT SHIT OUT. Yes, you’ll be talking to yourself – congratulations! You’re officially a writer. Take your time and accentuate, pause dramatically, speak the same way the characters sound in your head. If you stumble over a word, cut it. If you can’t say it all in one breath you need to chop up your sentences. You’ll be amazed at how differently you’ll look at what you’ve written.
The Hemmingway App
This site is one of my favourites and good news everyone! It’s free! Copy and paste your text into this little program and it’ll give you a nice, simple, colour coordinated report on it, including giving it a ‘readability grade’. It’ll tell you how many words there are, how many adverbs you’ve used and it will even highlight sentences it deems ‘hard to read’. (With fictional prose, while I wouldn’t take this last part as gospel, it does help you to make sure you’re not being a bit too ‘purple’ with your descriptions.) Even if I haven’t had a chance to do the all things above, I always make time for this site.
So! There you have it, a few really easy ways to make the transition from writer to editor without losing your head. Hopefully anyway. If you have any more you’d like to share, let me know in the comments. Share the nitpicky love, yo. :D