Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Word. By. Word.

Thursday’s Thanksgiving and my parents are coming into town tomorrow, so I've got a lot of cleaning to do. No post on Thursday. But I had a simple idea I’d been meaning to toss out to you for a while now and this seemed like a good time.

Random theory of mine, probably not all that original. I think we tend to batch-read words. We tend to look at larger text elements—the clauses and phrases and sentences, rather than the individual words that make up those elements. I mean, you’re doing it right now. You’re not picking out the individual words, you’re reading this as a whole. And that’s a good thing. It’s what we want readers to do. It means my writing has a great flow to it.

But...

By the same token, this can make us kind of blind to things in our own work. Once we’ve written a sentence, we tend to gloss over it. Especially after reading it three or four times. We get overly-familiar with it. Even when we’re re-reading it in an edit draft, a lot of the time we’re just taking in the big picture and not looking at what’s actually there on the page.  It’s how we can read a sentence a dozen times and never notice that glaring typo in the middle of it. Or not notice there’s a word missing altogether.  Or that twice on this page we refer to Stu as Ted, but we don’t think about it because we know Stu was called Ted in an earlier draft and so they’re the same person in our heads.

That kinda thing.

So here’s my quick tip for you.  Do at least one pass where you  don’t read your story. Read the words on the page. Actually look at each individual word there on your screen  and. Read. Each. One. Of. Them.

Yeah, it’s slow. And it's tough. That sounds silly, I know, but it is super-tough to go through a story this way. Especially a story we know. You need a ton of patience and focus. But I guarantee you’ll find dozens of things that were missed on earlier passes.

In fact, here’s a tip for that tip. Before you do this pass, change the font on your whole document. If you normally write in Times, switch it over to Courier. If you normally write in Courier, switch it over to Times. If you normally write in Wingdings, what the hell’s wrong with you? Seriously, nobody’s going to be able to read that. Put it in Times, make everybody’s life easer.

Anyway... remember what I said about how we get overly-familiar with things? Well y’see Timmy, by changing the font, I’ve just made the whole document unfamiliar to me. The spacing’s different. Things will sit on each page in new ways. Which means I’ll be looking at it with fresh eyes, and things will be a little easier to catch.

And there you go. This writing tip has been brought to you by cranberry sauce. And by Nana’s special holiday rolls.

Next time... well, look. Black Friday’s coming up, and if you’ve been here for any amount of time you know what I’ll be talking about. And then there’s Cyber Monday, plus NaNoWriMo will’ve been wrapped up for a couple of days. I’m going to be blabbing about a lot of stuff for the next week or so. Check back often.

Until then, go write.

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