I love my live and in-person critique group. We are a wonderful mix of specialties so that each of us focuses on one or two things and we all agree or can argue coherently against any suggested changes. There are five of us and once a month we meet to hand out several pages of our story to each member. The result is that we leave with five copies of part of our novel annotated by ourselves and our friends.
I keep my notes in a blue folder which I have started thinking of as the Editing Folder of Doom. Our last session was 3 weeks ago and I have only made it through one set. I discovered at our writing sessions, every Wednesday, that I can’t look comfortably at the notes of a person who is sitting next to me. I have got to get over that or I will waste valuable time.
Why is editing, especially according to someone else’s input, so difficult? Good writers value and use the input from their critiquers. I love the suggestions from this group. So, why? Part of that is having gone over a small part of my story once, I am so done with it. But now I am having issues getting back to it. And that’s worse than writer’s block to me.
EMSA Publishing lays out two reasons why self-editing is hard and five tips to make it easier. The first reason, Lack of Education (in grammar), is not true for me. I am old enough to have been taught grammar in the appropriately named grammar school levels. I wasn’t very good at it then, but I have improved over time. The second reason, That’s Not How Our Brains Work, is spot on. I’m so close to my work, so living the lives of my characters, and so filled with scenes I have to hurry and get to that, as this article says, my brain glosses over the missing bits. Or the typos. Or the wrong POV.
So, how do I make this work better for me? Having others look at the pages is wonderful. They find all the undotted Is and uncrossed Ts. The article talks about self-editing without outside help, so I need to make a stew, as it were, of these tips and my reality.
The first tip is to give myself some time. Let the notes sit for a week or so. Okay. I can maybe wait a week after the critique group meets but then keep it to a few days before I look at the next set of notes.
The second tip is to read it out loud. This is really a great thing, and I even have a function on my desktop computer that will read the story to me. I always seem to catch an error while reading my story to the group, and kicking myself for not reading it once over beforehand.
The third tip is second nature to me now. Pay attention to grammar and spelling checks. I love Grammarly for catching my comma problems, but some of the things it says are wrong are actually how I want to say things. So I am skeptical as the article suggests.
Fourth, feed your words into one or more of the online apps to look at word usage and sentence structure. I’ve not used either PaperRater or HemmingwayApp but I have heard a lot of good about the latter. And Hemmingway can tell you the grade level your writing falls into. They are both free, but Hemmingway has recently developed a new version that will cost a one-time fee of $19.99.
Finally, read your work from the bottom up. I sometimes read each paragraph from end to beginning because your eye is not going to see things that aren’t there but should be, or miss things that are out of place. This new way to look at your written word can be the best thing you ever took time to do.
For tips on how to critique better and receive critiques better, this Writing Forward blog by Melissa Donovan is perfect and insightful. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.