Monday, 8 August 2011


What I discovered on my way to the publisher’s.

Over the years, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting some of Canada’s best writers, two of whom, in fact, were listed for the Governor General Award of Literature. I'd always imagined that these great writers wrote from an almost trance-like state and that the results were instant poetry. I can't tell you how surprised I was to find out that, like me, they too did a lot of rewriting, and that their work was excellent because they did so much rewriting. Okay, I haven’t told you anything new so far. But here’s a question. How many of you know the best method of editing? 

Here is how one writer taught me. Sit in front of your computer, in a quiet room, with a friend who had a copy of your manuscript in hand—hopefully this friend is knowledgeable in grammar, spelling and punctuation—and take turns reading the entire script out loud, ‘one fucking line at a time.’ 

There is something about hearing a text that highlights all the little flubs; be it a word repeated too often or too close together, or a sentence that doesn’t sound quite right. And as soon as one flub is heard, fix it right away. 

I know how difficult it is to read for days on end, which is why I never attempt it alone, because if I ever did, I would invariably find myself speaking lower and lower until I was back at reading it in my mind once again. And reading a text silently simply doesn’t work as well.
One author told me that when he is unable to find anyone to read along with him, he tapes himself and then listens to the recording a few days later. I’m sure that, in a pinch, this can work well too, if you can stand the sound of your voice for that long. I know I wouldn't. Yawn.

Here’s the thing, we’ve all heard the old 80/20 rule. You know, 20 % of the writers make 80% of the money. Well, the same rule can be applied to good writing. Good writing is 20% writing and 80% editing.
Which might explain why so many of us are given to drinking too much.

 Food for thought! I'll drink to that.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this makes me so glad that my novel isn't really long! I remember doing this a few years ago with a manuscript I'd written my then-writing partner, and it seemed so tedious, but it really worked. I haven't gotten to that point yet with my current MS, but I am in the process of rewriting and revising, and it's amazing how giving it a bit of time and distance has given me so many more ideas on how to make the story better. Next step is reading the entire thing out loud 'one fucking line at a time' lol ;-)