I’ve been working in writers groups now for quite a few years. I find them to be indispensable tools in editing my work. More than that, though, they can be a source of good techniques to put into your writer’s toolbox. I’ve picked up excellent writing processes and plenty of tips and tricks along the way, as well as developing some of my own. One of the things I’d like to use this blog to do is to share some of those.
I’ve seen plenty of manuscripts (mine included) come out of a writers’ group covered in a sea of red ink. One of the most depressing things about that is seeing how many of the edits are little grammatical mistakes, missing words, bungled punctuation, and the like. Little things.
What you wanted was some feedback on the plot, on the characterization of your villain, or the reactions of first time readers to the scene as a whole. Instead, you realize that you’ve bogged them down in the little things so badly that they missed the items you were really hoping to get some help with.
Once, I brought this up to a reader who had just blessed me with hours of fixes for a cornucopia of little things. I expressed my frustration about it and my disappointment. She asked me if I had read the passage before giving it to her.
What? Of course, I had read it. I wrote it, after all. She shook her head and asked me if I had read it out loud. I hadn’t. I’d never considered doing that. After all, it was just me, where I was writing. Why would I read it out loud? She told me to try it next time before bringing her something to read.
I was actually pretty resistant to the idea. I can be pretty stubborn, sometimes. But just to show her that it was a waste of time, I went ahead and read it out loud. As I stumbled along, the errors seemed to leap off the page at me. I made edits and brought it to my reader. This time, I got a much more satisfying response. But there were still some issues.
She noticed that I had missed a word entirely. Just left it out of the sentence. I remembered reading it out loud by myself and realized that I had subconsciously supplied the word I had forgotten to type. While I was picking up the errors in front of me on the page, I was still missing the things that were, well, missing. This time, I had an idea.
On the next section, when I read it out loud, I recorded myself. As before, I caught some of the little things just in reading it out loud. But when I played it back and listened as my own editor, I found even more. Everything tightened up.
Since that time, when I notice a section of a work that is giving me particular problems, I use these techniques on it. I’ll even have someone else (a reader I trust) read it to me, allowing me to concentrate on the edits. Even when I think the issue is primarily one of plot, language, or structure, giving it a good work-up like this can really kick your edit into gear.
But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. See if you find yourself catching far more of the little things and getting them out of your writing.