A second pair of eyes

Many folks out there (and perhaps even you) will be into the annual Nanowrimo writing marathon - 50,000 words in November's thirty days. If you're first-drafting no matter what the context, then that's probably not the time for second thoughts. Get it written. Get it done. That's what matters.

But there'll come a time when you have to face up to the horrors of the word-count at some point, and you'll have to go back and sort out your first version.

So here's a collection of ideas about how to approach that, focusing on the sentence level of writing. I'll put up another blog post in a few days that'll look at wider issues to do with redrafting, such as more structural matters.

  1. Give yourself time. The longer the better. At any point in time, there are two versions of what you've written. The version you think that you've written, and the version that actually exists. So give yourself a buffer to let you forget. The longer you can allow between the first and the second draft, the better. That way you'll forget what you think you've written and focus instead on what's actually there.
  2. Change your mode of reading. If your first draft is on a screen, then print it out. Or upload it to a tablet or an e-reader. Change it; make the reading experience different to the writing experience.
  3. It's OK to make little fixes as you go (or have a quick re-read the next time you come back to write to sort out obvious issues) but keep your brain either in drafting mode or in editing mode rather than shifting between the two.
  4. Leave yourself notes. I'm a Word user, so I use the comments facility (in the Review menu) to leave myself virtual Post-Its if there's something that I know I'm going to have to come back to. This has the effect of reminding you where to start when you're making your revisions/additions too. 
  5. Use the spell-checker. If you don't know how to, then find out. Your word-processing program is your primary work tool; it's only reasonable that you should know what the main buttons do. Yes, there are arcane functions that you'll never need, but there's plenty of assistance and support built into even the most basic of WP programs these days. 
  6. Make sure you've got your spell-checker configured appropriately (I'm in the UK, so I don't want it toggled to US English settings, for example).         
  7. Add to your spell-checker. Frequently-used words (character names and the like) can be added to the dictionary. 
  8. But don't overly rely on your spell-check facility. You're the writer, not the computer. 
  9. Use print dictionaries and a thesaurus; use online alternatives to these also. There are also online supports such as Hemingway and Grammarly that some might find useful. 
  10. Use different fonts for different processes. I saw this tip in Joanne Harris' Twitter feed. It's the work of seconds to change fonts, so why not use one for the drafting and another for the second draft? Again, this will make the words unfamiliar, and so you'll focus on what's actually there, not on what you think you've written.    
  11. Sit in a different room to your writing room when you're revising. Or if you write in coffee shops, do this at home. Or swap inside for outside. Again, shake up the routine. 
  12. Get a second opinion. A critical friend; someone who'll take the task of checking your work seriously, and yet won't beat you unnecessarily over the head with your manuscript for having dropped the occasional apostrophe. 
  13. If you're stuck, ask. There's plenty of help out there. 
  14. If you're really stuck and can't get help, make a decision and be consistent. That way, changes can be made easier if need be, plus it shows that you're in control of the manuscript. 
  15. This is an iterative process. It'll take a few goes to get right, but it gets easier over time, and next time out, you'll have learned from this time around and so you'll make fewer errors/typos etc.

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My historical thriller The Prospect of This City is out now. It's available in paperback from this website and also in ebook and paperback via Amazon