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!
K.T. Hanna says
I think I mix a few of those things. I let a first draft sit for 2-4 months. Then I print it out. Because I generally write them very fast, when I go back through and read the paper version of the story, I usually find everything very new lol.
I arm myself with highlighters and coloured tabs and work at all the different elements that need improving. It looks like a rainbow when I’m done.
Then after a short break (maybe a few weeks) I’ll transfer all those paper edits to a shiny new digital version. Beta send out leaves about 6-8 weeks. Next round of edits directly on the computer and then another beta send out for about a month.
That way I always have some space between it and me. And while it’s out and about, I work on other books/stories. TADAAAA
Cheryl Reif says
Your process sounds efficient! And colorful, which is always a plus in my book :). I’m curious whether you have time to delve deep into another project during those 6-8 weeks when you’re letting the first one sit. I’ve noticed that I have a hard time fully committing to a new project when I’m feeling unsettled about an old one….
Jill Kemerer says
I have a lot of tricks to keep a manuscript fresh. One of the best ways, for me, is to hand it over to my critique partners. They always view at least one thing in a way I hadn’t intended. Talk about eye-opening!
Cheryl Reif says
OH, yes, that’s a fantabulous way to get some perspective. ***MUCH LOVE*** to wonderful critique partners! Plus, since my group reviews whole manuscripts, the book gets a 6-8 week break while people read it. When I receive their feedback, I’ve got some nice distance from it.
Do you critique entire books or chapter by chapter? I’ve done both and wonder which you prefer
Rebecca Berto says
I’ve heard some of these tips but the rest are new–and all awesome.
Thanks for sharing. As an unpublished author, I’m constantly trying to figure out new ways of “getting distance”.
Cheryl Reif says
Hi Rebecca, I so glad these are helpful! I know, it’s SUCH a struggle to read your work with that elusive thing called distance. I’m not sure it gets much easier, whether you’re new to writing or more experienced, but there are definitely tips that help. I’d be curious to know if any of these help you!
Debz Hobbs-Wyatt says
Some really useful tips here. Although we hate to put our writing to one side for too long I know from my own writing and from the writers I help how those fresh eyes really do make us see what was blatantly wrong! And if time is limited and you don’t want to put it away for too long and work on the next one, as I do, a critique really does help you see the truth! No one said it was easy but it’s worth it
Cheryl Reif says
Hi Debz–so true! Those critiques are great for finding our blind spots.