Thursday, January 16, 2020

Where editing meets my Mac Or a curmudgeon’s guide to technology

I teach because, as I tell friends or young teachers I’m working with, I get paid to talk about books. What could be better? I also get paid to talk about writing and the writing process. (There is also a never-ending pile of papers to grade, but we don’t have to get into the negative stuff here.)

The truth is it’s about symbiosis: teaching feeds my writing, and writing feeds my teaching.

I’m working with a young writer this spring, a senior who wants to write novels. It’s a one-on-one class. He’s absolutely driven, and our focus is on his work. But I am sharing some of my processes with him.

One is absolutely painful:
  • Find your weak verbs and replace them.
Using the CTL + F option, typing in “has” (or “was” or “be”) and spotting, say, eight uses of “has” in a 500-word argumentative essay, taking time to punch up those verbs with suitable revisions is one thing. Try doing it for the first 57,000 words of a novel. This took me two hours last week. Time well spent? I hope so. I wish I was a write-it-and-edit-when-you-are-finished writer. But I’m not wired that way.

CTL + F is useful for many things:
  • How many times have I written “had been”? Yikes!
  • Did I tell the reader that she wore RED glasses too many times?
  • Lower case to start an independent clause after a colon?
  • Can I shorten my sentences? Search for the word “and.”
As I’ve mentioned, I’m a stickler (did I just write “stickler”? Am I becoming an old curmudgeon?) about reading works aloud or having the rat on the wheel inside the computer (or whatever powers the thing) read it to you. On a Mac, this is OPT + ESC. On a PC, it’s Windows + ESC (there are other ways on a PC as well).

The benefits of hearing your work are many: you find clunkers, spelling errors (the rat will read whatever you write –– if your hands move like mine, “to the” becomes “tot he” often.), throw-away lines in dialogue, and cliffhangers that simply hang. You hear the pace of your scene. You hear the rhythm of the language. In short, you hear what you really wrote. Not what you think you wrote.

These are some places where old fashioned editing meets technological advancements for me. I’d love to hear how others are using technology.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Great post, John. The curse of the passive voice stalks all of us.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Great post, John. The curse of the passive voice stalks all of us.