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Posts tagged ‘editing’

Proof Reading (26/02/2012)

I wrote something this week for a magazine.

It’s only a couple of thousand words. I’ve been meaning to write it for something like eight months now, and it was only because I didn’t have the internet that I got round to doing it.

I’m quite happy with it, partly because I did a lot of proofreading. I took out so many adverbs, adjectives and qualifiers. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so true. I suspect in the first draft you put a lot in just qualifiers and adjectives in to give you more time to think. They’re sort of literary “ums”. Almost a type of phatic phrase.

Even then though, I missed a number of typos that L and M picked up when they read it.

Proof reading is really hard, because you read what you meant not what you’ve actually written. It’s a really tricky psychological problem. Obviously, misspellings are easy, because Word puts a helpful little red line underneath them. What’s tricky is when you write the wrong word by mistake – a typo that results in a different word. Word tries to put a green or blue underline for these, and Word 2010 is certainly a lot better than 2003, but it still gets a number of false positives, and also misses a lot.

I’ve been thinking about how to solve this problem – how to get better at spotting these. I think all you can do is:

  1. Get someone else to read it, or ideally, lots of other people.
  2. Be aware of what words you’re likely to mistype. It’s my experience that there are certain words I tend to mistype (probably because of some sort of finger memory, or repeated error) and be especially vigilant around those.

For example: I think I must have slightly dyslexia around “p” and “b”. I remember I’ve always got these slightly confused since I was small – but only in the middle of words. Maybe it’s their shape or their sound. In some ways, it doesn’t matter. I can train myself a bit harder to get them right, but also I need to make sure I read very carefully when I get to a word like “crumbled”, that I do mean “crumbled” and not “crumpled”. In Thinking Fast and Slow Language I need to engage my second level of thinking which is slower and more thorough – looking at what is actually there, rather than what I think is there.

The other things I tend to mistype are:

  • “Now” and “not”  – this one is quite bad, since it turns the sentence completely round, but it’s easy for both me and proofreaders to miss.
  • “to” and “and” – I know it’s slang, but I still sometimes write “sit down and listen” instead of “sit down to listen”. The former is valid, but I mean the latter. In some cases, the former isn’t valid.
  • Tenses. I don’t mean I don’t get tenses (I do. I did. I will – see, easy), what I mean is I write “she’d” instead of “she’s”. Very easy one that one.
  • Repeated words. This one is terrifying, and I think I might write a bit of software to help me with this one. My first sentence was:

I get up to get a cup of tea. When I get back David Jason is sitting in my seat.

Did you spot it? It might be easier since I’ve isolated it and sit it aside, but I read that so many times, L read it, M read it, and in fact, I never noticed it until R pointed it out:

I get up to get a cup of tea. When I get back David Jason is sitting in my seat.

Three “get”s in two sentences. The fix is easy enough:

I get up to buy a cup of tea. When I come back, David Jason is sitting in my seat.

It doesn’t even change the rhythm or the scansion of the line – but you have to notice it to make the change. And three well educated, English-graduates missed it! And it’s in the first sentence.

Proof reading, as I say, is tough.

The Right Rewrite (22/02/2012)

I was reading something a friend of mine wrote today.

It’s quite fascinating reading it, because my friend is really very talented. And when it’s good, it’s absolutely great:  really lively, witty prose. But there are some bits that are just wrong. If I was a publisher or agent, I’d definitely sign her, but then I’d need to work with her to train her to write… “commercially”.

It’s full of potential and occasionally delievers, but frequently misses the mark completely.

The irony is that she probably thinks these bits are the best bits. But they are the bits that really need to go.

The thing is, it’s probably easier for me to edit it than her. What’s it’s shown me is just how important it is to look at your writing with a clear set of eyes, and also just how rutheless you need to be. And it’s very ruthless indeed.

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