I bet you’ve heard that age-old advice about how to get perspective on your manuscript. Put it in a drawer. For a year—or however long it takes you to forget what you wrote.
Photo: kcdsTM, Flickr Creative Commons
Great advice, right? Except that most of us don’t have a year, or a month, to sit on a manuscript before tackling a rewrite.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I tend to blog about my current writing challenges, and this is no exception. I last rewrote my manuscript in July, but even with several months to gain some distance from the story, I’m finding it difficult to edit/rewrite text when I practically have it memorized.
So how do you re-read your writing with fresh eyes, when your eyes aren’t anything like fresh (at least, not with respect to this particular manuscript!)? Keep reading for ideas!
Strategy #1: Read it aloud
You’ve probably heard that one before, but it doesn’t make it any less effective. Reading your work aloud can alert you to mistakes and awkward phrases that you might not catch otherwise.
Strategy #2: Have a text-to-speech program read your work aloud
Hearing your words in someone else’s voice is helpful in and of itself, because you lose the benefit of author interpretation. When a computer program reads your work, its very awkwardness can help you identify problem spots.
Strategy #3: Print your manuscript—paperback style
In Writing a novel with Scrivener, David Hewson recommends printing out your book in the format it will ultimately appear—single spaced, smaller font, with two pages per sheet of paper. I think it fools your brain into thinking you’re reading a physical paperback. Whatever the reason, it’s worked for me!
Strategy #4: Change up your reading style
Do you usually read on the computer screen? Print a hard copy. Do you usually read 12 pt Times New Roman? Switch to 10 pt Calibri, just to jog your brain into a different gear.
Strategy #5: Read with focus
Craft your pitch, post it beside your computer, and read with that in mind. Are you staying true to the story you’re promising readers?
Strategy #6: Read with focus, take 2
Similarly, you can read through the manuscript with theme in mind. Does everything build upon your core idea?
Strategy #7: Read-and-walk
Did you know that the sheer fact of movement changes the way your brain processes information? Avoid major highways, of course, but reading your manuscript while walking on your treadmill or a relatively smooth sidewalk can help you see your work anew.
Strategy #8: Switch it around
Try reading your book from the last chapter to the first. Or, if you’re reading to correct grammar and punctuation errors rather than content, read the text in reverse. It forces your brain to focus on one word at a time, allowing you to see details you might otherwise skim past.
Strategy #9: Make it visual
Print your manuscript in super-small font, single spaced, and line up as many pages as you can fit on your table, bed, or basement floor. This technique isn’t for detailed reading, but it’s great for getting the “big picture” of how your story is structured.
Strategy #10: Make it MORE visual
Are you reading with a specific goal in mind? Highlight individual character names, points-of-view, or clues to the mystery using those lovely highlighters in your desk. You know, the ones you’ve been saving for a really great project. This is it!
You can combine this technique with the previous to get a visual idea of how well you’re balancing different story aspects—or, for the digitally inclined, highlight text in your word processing program.
What about you? How do you help yourself read your work with a fresh perspective? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!