Perfect Writing Every Time

When I was in school, I had a professor call me in to talk to me about my writing. She was not happy with it.

As she pointed out my errors, I said in exasperation, “I’m not a perfect writer like you.” She asked me what I meant by that. I told her I couldn’t write something once and have it come out perfectly. She asked me what made me think she could. Well, I told her I knew she had numerous publications in academic journals and books. I just assumed she could write something that was publishable in the first sitting. She couldn’t.

She showed me seven bins of colored paper on a shelf. She asked me if I’d ever wondered why she had seven colors of paper. I said, rather weakly, I just thought you liked colors.

“No,” she said, ” I write and rewrite seven times before I send my work to a publisher.”

I had only rewritten papers a few times. I rewrote only when I lost a paper on the computer or physically lost it. It had never occurred to me that anyone, and I mean anyone, would rewrite a paper seven times – not even two. Somehow I’d missed out on the necessity of editing one’s own work.

So, I began learning to edit my own writing. Many encourage writers to write without editing the first time through. I have no problem with that. I can get so caught up in my own stories I can’t even spell my name correctly.

I believe that my right brain takes over when I’m being creative. Then I have to go back, make corrections, and change random writing into a linear story, one that makes sense. (There’s much written on this on the Internet. See, for example: WOW! Women on Writing

Many advise author to read their writing aloud. The theory is that you will hear your errors. When we read to ourselves silently, we often read what we think we wrote, not what is actually on the paper. So, the solution many propose is to read aloud.

I’ve found a problem with that. No, it’s not that it’s embarrassing if someone else is around. It is that I read a few paragraphs, then fall into reading silently again. I can seldom get beyond a few paragraphs and never through a whole page, before my concentration is broken and I begin to read silently. (Which means, of course, that I begin to hear what I thought I wrote, not what I actually wrote.) So, reading aloud doesn’t work very well for me.

Here’s something that does. I use Excel’s Speak Cells feature to read to me in Word 10. I highlight half a page, then click on the speak emblem on the toolbar, then read the paragraphs as I listen. The effect for me is that even if my mind starts to drift a little, I hear errors better, and if I ‘see’ words that aren’t there, the Speak Cells feature doesn’t. So, I realize when I’m adding words that aren’t there.

An added benefit is that wordiness, clumsy phrases, redundancy, etc. becomes easier to find.

Try it. (To see how to use Speak Cells go to Herb Tyson Technical Blog.