Weekly travel writing tip 5: Reread and edit |

Weekly travel writing tip 5: Reread and edit

1 February 2010

This week I have a quite tricky tip because every word of it can easily be used against me. But it's a very important phase in the writing process so it certainly needs to receive the necessary attention.

These days, lots of people take little time rereading their story, one particular part they tend to skip is the spelling check because nowadays we just let our spelling corrector run through the story and every stupid mistake is removed.

We think...

There are two things one should realize when using a spelling corrector. First of all you need to make sure that you pick the right language. This sounds dumb, but it's not that I'm trying to translate a Swedish text with a German corrector here. In my version of MS Word - the old 2000 version - there are about thirteen different types of English. One can choose to correct in English from the UK or from the US - which is already quite a difference - but also with Australian English, English from the Caribbean, Canadian English and many more. You can imagine that your story might look kind of strange if you had accidentally gone through it with the Zimbabwean English spelling corrector.

Next to the different variations of a language, what you should really care about are mistakes that can't be found by your spelling corrector.

Most dangerous are the homophones, words that sound the same but are written differently and have a different meaning. A couple of examples:

there - their
its - it's (although this one might be recognized by your grammar check)
to - too - two
for - four
hair - hare
hole - whole

These examples are quite harmless although they do make you look like a bad writer, but what would your family say if they'd read that you went into the jungle to look at the guerrillas or that you had spent then night on a fairy. They'd probably think that you're totally reckless or smoked way too much pot.

I guess we can summarize that rereading a story/article/blog post/chapter of a book is a necessity if you want the number of spelling and grammar errors to be at a minimum. But that's not the only reason why we reread and edit. A second - and at least equally important - reason is to review the content.

When you are writing, the story just flows out of your head onto the screen. Words come out of your fingers the way they are created in your mind at that certain moment. While I'm writing this sentence, I'm not thinking about what I will write within 5 minutes. I do know the subject of course, but I don't know the exact words yet. They appear at the very moment that I need them.
This is why the texts in the first draft is not always very coherent and merely consist of small stories.
Therefore we need content editing!

In this phase we reread the text a couple of times and remove all unnecessary information, add information that connects the different parts better to each other and edit phrases that sound awkward among the rest of the content.

Then we have a look at the adverbs and try to replace them by more original ones. Especially try to get rid of the word very, "very good", "very bad" and "very ugly" can easily be replaced by "superb", "terrible" and "hideous", and I bet you can find another couple of those.

There is no real guideline for content editing because it's totally different done for a letter than for an article and for fiction than for non fiction, so you'll have to follow the feeling in your stomach. But if you keep previous guidelines in mind and try to use a broad vocabulary, all should be well.

I will finish this post with two last editing tips: the first one is: let someone else read your work. Because you know what is comming - as you've written it - so you can easily look over mistakes, especially misspelled words.
And secondly: don't reread while writing. When your mind comes in a writing state, you don't want to spoil this until the end of your story, you want it to keep producing words and sentences. When you reread after every paragraph, you always set your mind back to a rest mode.

"Read your own compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out"
Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)

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