The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hard Way is Sometimes the Best

         Revising is always one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Granted, I only write short pieces--1,400 words or under, usually--so I'm not like C. Hope Clark (in so many ways). She recently worked on revising her novel, soon to debut, which is gargantuan compared to the reworking I do.

     However, there are a couple of things I've discovered--one because of my daytime job, and one accidentally.

      When it comes to editing, there is no better strategy than reading your work out loud to yourself. The brain is a wondrous thing. If there is a word that's left out and you read it silently, your brain will slip it in, unbeknownst to you, but it will only get set into the mental version. It will remain absent on paper. If you scan your writing without hearing it spoken, you might not catch the  unwanted repetition, the awkward rhythm, the screwed-up tenses.

      (I expect my third graders to make their writing make sense. They are held accountable if they leave out a word because their mouth works just as well as mine, so when I grade their work, I read it quietly to myself.)

      A few years ago I participated in a writing retreat. Technologically, I am an idiot, so I brought along my husband's laptop, and a hard copy of the piece I was working on. Since I did not have the story on a flashdrive or in a file, and since I needed to have it saved some way so I could revise it during the weekend, I ended up typing it over, word by word. 

      When you are typing up something from a hard copy, you have to pay attention to every word, every bit of white space and every punctuation mark. You're seeing it with new eyes, revising as you go, and rethinking the choices you made. This works so well for me that often, when I have the time, I will choose to not send a piece to my work email, even though I know I will be working on revising it after-school hours. The simple, methodical process of retyping it works for me.

     What are some "backward" methods that work for you? What are some throwback strategies that you rely on? Inquiring minds want to know...


  1. I write "differently" than most writers least I think I do...because I started out writing short columns for the newspaper, then mostly Chicken Soup for the Soul submissions. I had to edit as I went, and made sure my few words were as best as they could be, before sending them in. So, when writing my book, I just cannot keep myself from self-editing. That's obviously why it is taking me SO LONG to write it! BUT, you didn't ask for that info, did you? :)
    Instead of retyping like you do, I print the pages I want to edit and get entirely away from my computer. Usually flopping on the couch, with pencil in hand. Most times I don't past the first couple of sentences before I'm crossing out words or inserting others. That's worked for me the best! Great post, Sioux-y-Q!

  2. Hi Sioux,
    You are so right about reading out loud being a helpful tool when revising. I can't believe how much that helps to catch mistakes. I tend to edit as I write, which most books on writing advise against, but I can't help it. After about my tenth on-the-screen revision, I type out a copy and move to another chair to revise (kind of like Becky does).

    How is this for backwards? Many years ago I worked full-time as a secretary while I went to college at night to get my degree. One of the tricks I learned to proofread as a secretary ws to read the copy backwards to catch mistakes. That was more of a proofreading trick rather than editing, but I use it still on occasion.

    Many years ago I read an article about how the human mind processes information. The gist of it was the more senses we use the more we remember and the closer we are. The author of the article asserted that writing in long-hand before typing connected the writer more to the material than typing on a typewriter or a on computer.
    Okay, I'm rambling now, but your post got me thinking, and that's a good thing.

  3. I used to prefer writing in longhand first, but now that seems too time-intensive. I usually try to edit as I go, reading back five or six times and changing words, inserting more, catching the typos. Sometimes I paste it and read in another font. I also print and read out loud, but I generally need at least a day in between the writing and editing to do a thorough job.

    Of course, my blog posts are seat-of-the-pants, and a few typos get through. So sue me. I'm in the non-profit business of spreading humor throughout the world. Hopefully, my readers can tell the difference between an occasional typo and illiteracy.

  4. Becky--I flop on the couch occasionally with my writing as well. It depends if anything good is on the television ;)

    Donna--I thoroughly agree about our detachment when we use computers. I regularly think of a friend who only writes in longhand with a fountain pen. The audibleness of it is a major part of the writing process for him. (Hey, I got YOU to think? That makes me feel a bit puffed up, since you're such an introspective and reflective person anyway...)

    Val--If you belabored over yours posts, worrying about the occasional typos to the point that they lessened the frequency of your stories, I think lots of people would protest. I too need a day for a piece to "marinade" before I add onto it and revise.

  5. I think that reading aloud is crucial for my main thing, poetry. Also, I always write my verse (except for Coal Black's stuff) in longhand. As you say, every word and mark gets more intimate attention. One last thing I do, when alls I am looking for is typos (after I have typed it up for Word Garden), is to read from the bottom up. That eliminates the sense of the piece, the known-ness of it, and makes me see each word better.

  6. I edit as I go, then I go back and I find no matter how good I think it is, if I sleep on it, I find more ways to improve it the next day.

  7. What an interesting post. I enjoyed hearing that I'm not the only one who likes to sit down with a hard copy, though I usually take it into my sun room with a cup of coffee. My favorite is when I'm able to write things way ahead and then put them away long enough that I can forget about them. Forgetfulness actually comes in handy, because it helps you to approach the piece with the kind of detachment your reader has.

  8. I can't edit as I go which makes my editing process even more agonizing. I too have to have a hard copy to edit, but reading out loud does work! I might have to try the reading from the end first. And yes, letting it sit a good while helps... when one is able. Once I think I have it at its best, I think edit some more on screen... have to save a few trees.

  9. I constantly edit, which is terrible, and why NaNo is a great exercise for me. Truthfully, I've over-edited some pieces that, as it turns out, were better before I got heavy handed.

    For detail proofing I read out loud from a hard copy and mark it up as I go. Then I leave it be for a bit. I'm always surprised at the sometimes huge boo-boos I find after a three or four days!


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