Monday, June 8, 2009

Reading out of order

I've started reading a couple of really smart books on craft and editing that I mentioned before and that showed up from Amazon the other day. I suppose I'll find lots of opportunity to reference some of the advice and concepts in them. First up, from The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself by Susan Bell.

The first chapter has lots of advice about how to create distance between yourself and your work so that you can look at it carefully -- take some time off, read it out loud, have a friend read it to you, force yourself to see it through someone else's eyes by sending it out. All of that is stuff I've discovered or re-invented on my own during the process. (One trick I never thought of I'm going to try -- change the font when you print it out, which defamiliarizes it a little bit so you can read it with more sensitivity.)

One trick she doesn't mention but that I recently stumbled on by accident is reading it out of order. I've advised and used a variation of this with my freshman comp students to help them catch basic grammar and syntax errors. I tell them that if they read their essay backwards -- last sentence and then the next-to-last sentence, etc. -- then the meaning that connects the sentences is removed and they are more alert to the literal meaning of the sentences and they "hear" errors they otherwise miss.

Well, the last couple weeks I've been reading my typescript "out of order" in a different sense and I'm noticing that I'm attuned to it differently as a result. Like I explained previously, while I wait to hear from one of my readers, I'm cherry-picking the chapters I'm pretty confident just need line editing at this point.

That's having an effect something like the exercise I recommend for my students. When I read Chs. 5, 8, 10, 14, 15, 7 -- like it's a Julio Cortazar book -- I've divorced my reading from the flow of the plot and impossible and can't judge it that way. I can't tell if the material works or is necessary or desirable in context, so all I can see is if it works on its own terms. I'm less likely to be in love with a scene because it helpfully advances a plot thread and more likely to see how it is flat and plodding and clumsy.

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