As a writer, it’s hard to corral the brain into thinking about doing that one thing… sitting down to write. No one tells you how difficult it is, but you learn organically by the number of times you stop and start, or never even tried at all.
Hemingway romanticized the pain of writing like this:
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
I’m certain Hemingway was right about the first part. You have to sit down at a keyboard, and sometimes that’s the hardest thing in the world. I just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and it delayed the inevitable by an hour. The empty chair glared at me the entire time.
I am now a few paragraphs in. Soon the magic of the flow will take over. I hope.
It’s the best feeling in the world when you suddenly stop writing and wonder how it got so late. Then, you look at your work in awe and ask, “who wrote that?” It’s as though an alternate part of the brain took over and wrote it for you.
Sometimes you have to force it, and sometimes you’re disappointed in the results. The important thing is, you did it; and it’s not over yet.
Keep going whether it’s good or not. That’s what professional writers do. Help is on its way in the form of a rewrite. As you keep going, you discover the piece transforms into something even better.
Rewrites are the healing to the disappointments.
Rewriting means going back to page one and making changes to the structure, story, and content. It can involve moving paragraphs around, changing perception, continuity issues, and the overall flow of the work.
Editing is fine-tuning the rewrite, but it also involves correcting and perfecting the use of words, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
For me, the “bleeding part” (that Hemingway refers to) happens as I approach the editing process.
It’s not my favorite task at all, but I learned a trick from my late husband, David Peckinpah, who was an Emmy nominated writer and producer for television and film.
David couldn’t afford the luxury of putting off writing or editing. His contract and the show depended on it. Without a script and the necessary revisions and edits, the actors, producers, director, and crew had nothing.
Without the paycheck, we had nothing.
David discovered the quickest way to hone the script and pick out the glitches was to read the script out loud. Most of the time, I read it with him, and it was so glaringly evident when there were continuity errors or dialogue that didn’t feel right.
Scripts are typically dialogue-driven, but the plot of the story is within the structure. Reading out loud was the perfect mirror for the story, reflecting what works and what doesn’t.
My first book was a children’s book, and it seemed quite natural for me to read it out loud during the editing process. Children gravitate to books with rhythm, and it’s exactly why Dr. Suess books have lasted for decades.
The editor on my own children’s book told me the mind sees what it wants to see, so typos and errors are often overlooked. When you add the sense of hearing to what your mind sees, you catch the error.
Here’s how I incorporate the “read out loud tool.”
- Print the article or chapter. Why print? Because it’s too tempting to correct errors as you go, and you lose the rhythm. You can also write in the margins.
- Highlight the glitches. When you find something that doesn’t feel right, just highlight, draw arrows or cross out what doesn’t work. The point is to get through the entire reading with a discerning, critiquing mind, and not the creative mind. It is two different parts of the brain. You’re in the role of “editor” now.
- Pay attention to your emotions. If you’re writing a piece that’s meant to have an emotional impact on people, you’ll want to make sure your words cause that emotion to rise up within you as you read aloud.
- Go back to your highlights and begin rewriting. Now is when you use your computer and your creative mind. Once you’ve finished a rewritten draft, it’s time to edit.
- Edit your copy for grammar and punctuation. Read your edited copy aloud and look for changes that need to be made again. Don’t skip this part! Many times the second read-through brings new issues to light. If it seems laborious, pretend you’re an actor on stage, learning his lines. Enjoy the reading! Make it bold and fun!
- There’s one last step. Put your entire chapter or article into a free grammar program like Grammarly or the Hemingway Editor, and see if you missed any grammatical errors.
Remember, these are computer-driven programs. The suggestions are not always right. Grammarly always nails me for my use of the ellipsis. Some people hate them, but I love them. I probably use them too much, but it’s a style choice. For me, it’s like taking a breath to ponder the thought before moving on. It’s exactly what I’d do if I read it aloud.
Should you read your work to someone else?
It depends. Do you respect their opinions? Do they know how to be helpful, or are they too critical? They don’t have to be writers, just someone you feel comfortable hearing their suggestions. Let them know ahead of time that you may or may not incorporate their ideas.
The professional is courageous, putting the work out there to be judged.
I never saw my husband buckle under criticism. He was always willing to do a rewrite. He’d courageously begin again with a renewed commitment to doing the work until it was right. I wish David was still alive so I could thank him for teaching me so much about the art of working as a professional writer.
And for the record, he had to do thirteen entire rewrites on his Disney movie, “Man of the House;” and it was rewritten again before going to production.
He passionately loved writing, and now I know how he felt… getting to spend every day doing what he loved.
And there’s that darn ellipsis, again.
This post was previously published on Sandy Peckinpah and is republished here with permission from the author.
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