At the instigation of one of the members of our writing group I’ve recently been trying an exercise that comes from a competition she does regularly. It’s called Hour of Writes. At the beginning of each week they give a three-word prompt. You have the rest of the week to think about it, you can even make notes. If you want to take part you have to enter the competition on the Hour of Writes website and it must be finished before 23:00 GMT on the Friday of that week. You have exactly one hour to write your story then the entry form closes and there is nothing more you can do.
I liked the idea of the exercise but wasn’t sure about entering the competition, (no time to edit my work after the deadline) but I started using the prompts and writing for exactly one hour to see where it took me.
So far, I’ve done it four or five times and, if there is one thing the exercise has taught me it’s that everything needs to be edited. The thought of writing for an hour then being cut off without the chance to go back and correct mistakes, change punctuation, re-write sections … just generally check things over makes me a bit twitchy. Remember what Earnest Hemmingway was credited with saying, “The first draft of anything is shit” … and I can vouch for that.
I try to read mine aloud to see if it all makes sense but it’s difficult not to read what you ‘think’ you have written instead of what you actually have. And as for trypogafical eddors, they sneak in and take up residence.
Reading it aloud to myself helps but I am still a bit conscious of sitting in a room on my own reading out loud. Getting someone else to read it to you is another way but, finding someone with the patience to read your manuscript while you listen for mistakes is a big ask. Just the logistics of it is difficult even if you can find someone there’s no guarantee you’ll both be available at the same time.
Getting someone else to read what I’ve written and check for mistakes is also difficult. I’m lucky, my wife does a pretty good job of finding the mistakes I invariably miss … and she says she likes doing it.
Editing is human activity, so mistakes will slide by. Many times I’ve gone through the procedure, been confident one of my short stories is error free only to find there are glaring blunders when I read it to the others in my writing group … the members of the group are the ones who are in the best position to see, comment about and help correct mistakes. Anyone who, like me, are still learning the craft should make an effort to join a local writing group.
Although it’s a relatively easy job nowadays to go back and correct mistakes – even upload a new, hopefully error free, copy – once a manuscript has been published someone somewhere will read it, errors and all. Those are the readers who make their first impressions on what they’ve just read, changing the manuscript at a later date does not reach them, so the aim is, as much as possible, to get it right first time.
Recently I’ve been using technology to help. WordTalk, text to speech software reads your writing to you in a quite realistic way. You can hear the spelling mistakes, bad punctuation, and bad sentence construction. It’s amazing how much you miss because you read what you think it should be and not what it actually is.
There are quite a few ‘text to speech’ programs out there, I have tried one or two but come back to WordTalk.
But nothing beats reading. Put your work to one side for a while, a couple of weeks or even months, then read it again when you’ve forgotten what you’ve written. Then you might read what’s on the paper and not what’s in your head.