Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Tip Thursday! #5 - First Revision: Steps One - SPELLCHECK THE FRIGGING THING

Last May I went to my first writing conference at Pennwriters. I didn't attend the whole weekend, money and mommy duties being what they are, but I did attend a one day intensive workshop with Timons Esais. He's a writer and a teacher and people, he's just good. I admit I was quaking in my boots when I turned up, having never faced the inquisitorial power of the writing conference before and - did he make me feel warm and fuzzy? Did he tell me I was a genius just waiting to be discovered? No. He made me work and think hard. But, for the effort of sticking your hand up and your neck out to answer a question or read from your WIP, he did give out candy.

He gave us advice on how to revise after the messy business of birthing the first draft. I pass it on to you in the hopes that it helps. It helped me get to stage two editing (where I linger, likely because of fear, on my first book)

1) Spell check the entire manuscript with a notepad and pencil in hand. Every time spell check brings something up DO NOT hit ignore like I do. Write the word down. There are so many words, especially in a book like mine where I've made up names for things, that I just ignore in spellcheck. Fair enough, but then how do I know that I'm consistent with my made up cosmology? Keep a log of the words that are coming up as misspelled. Later you can go back to that handwritten list and see how many different ways you spelled the name of your made up country.

2) Using that same hand list, check the spelling of names. You'd be amazed how many times I come across misspellings (or creative spellings) of my characters names. Jen, Jenna, Jenny, Jennifer - how could a reader know if it's the same person or four different people? This goes triple for creative names like Story (Storey, Storie). Creating a bible, or series bible in my case, is a good way to have a fixed reference for character names, nicknames and spellings.

3) Start looking for words you use a lot. 80K words is a tonnage for someone to spew out and some of those words, lots of them, are repeats. That's all well and good, but writers have favorite words that they use when they are being lazy. Words that are fine on their own in a paragraph, but when read as a whole 'clang' that is, they stand out as being repeated too often. This can cause the reader to come out of suspension of disbelief and that is big trouble. Watch out for these lazy words that are used as filler. Write them down and then keep a tally of how many times they appear. Some software programs do this for you. It's an eye opener.

4) Read your work out loud. This is a great way to uncover those 'lazy words' in #3, because you'll remember just hearing a word a few minutes ago, whereas sometimes, when we read, we don't 'register' every word, especially as the writer who knows the words so well. I think we unconciously polish and edit, making it sound better than it is when we read it to ourselves. Read it out loud, no matter how much you hate the sound of your voice. You'll hear clangers and awkward places immediately. Again, don't stop and try to fix it on the spot - write it on your 'revision' list for later.

Pennwriter's Conference is in Pittsburgh this year so I'll be missing it unfortunately, but I definitely recommend it. It's a great group of people and a great starting point for newbie conference goers.


  1. Great post. Let's see where do I begin? I like the idea of waiting before making the changes to the writing. The list is a handy tool for the fictional worlds we create.

    I know I've not only changed the spelling of my characters name, but I've given them completely new names. Perhaps, this goes to your previous post regarding character names. My character is telling me what her real name is, not the one I forced on her.

    Lazy words. I read an article in Writer's Digest about pet words. The words that don't contribute to the sentence, but we use all the time. "That" is one of mine. I can pick them out immediately now, and sometimes, I can catch myself before I type it.

    I might venture to Pittsburgh for the Pennwriters conference. Still deciding...


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