Nearly finished? Make yourself a critical list

Sorry I’ve been quieter here than usual. Those of you who also follow me on Twitter or have seen my stream in the sidebar will probably know that I’m bolted into my study in the final throes of My Memories of a Future Life. (Can’t tell you much about it yet, but it has its own Twitter ID.) So my blog has forgotten it has an owner, Dave has forgotten he’s got a wife… or he thinks I’ve forgotten him. The upshot is that I can’t talk sensibly about anything that isn’t happening to my characters in their time of crisis.

Anyway, while I do these most final of final edits, I invented a little tool that I thought you might find useful if you’re also at the last pass. I’m calling it the critical list.

What I’m doing at this stage is test-driving the whole book to see it works as it’s supposed to. Speed is of the essence. When we edit we read slowly which is great for detail but gives us a distorted idea of the pace. When we read at the speed a reader does, we understand the flow.

I’m finding points that need a tweak, but that can bog me down to that detail-obsessive snail pace again, which I don’t want. So I make a change, whip out a sentence here or reword something there, and keep a note of the page number so that I can come back and check it at editing speed later. Then I go on through the manuscript, running it at the speed a normal reader would.

Big deal, huh? Sorry. This is probably the least profound post I have ever written on the storytelling art. You are probably wondering if I’ve lost my senses, but such has my world shrunk while in the grip of this book.  You’re very welcome to share your most trivial writing tip ever in the comments, and I’ll be delighted you said hi.

Thank you, Christina Welsh, for the picture – and back soon.

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  1. #1 by Lin Treadgold - Writer and Nature Conservationist on July 20, 2011 - 5:01 pm

    Yes I am editing for the umpteenth time – good to know you do the same as I do.

    • #2 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 5:21 pm

      Umpteen? There isn’t a word for the number of times this book has been through the mill! Good to know this made sense to you, Lin.

  2. #3 by Jim Crigler on July 20, 2011 - 5:17 pm

    Being a writer, I love my book. When editing, I hate it, and say to myself, “What has to happen to this book so I’ll love it.”

    It’s a little like having planned bipolar disorder.

    • #4 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 5:22 pm

      ‘Planned biploar…’ I love that, Jim. I find myself thinking, the further I get, that I am being more and more ruthless with my cutting – because it’s for the good of the book. Like training an athlete to go the distance.
      We’ve now strayed a long way from your initial – and very nice – analogy, but never mind!

  3. #5 by Pamela Patton on July 20, 2011 - 5:18 pm

    Especially wise because it forestalls the old “bogged down by that footnote on page 29” problem that so often prevents one from getting a birds-eye view of the whole. I’ve passed it along; thanks!

    • #6 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 5:26 pm

      Hey, Pam – brilliant to see you here on my blog! I am gaping at the clash of worlds. Folks, I met this lady in my first term at college, which was a number of years ago but I won’t embarrass her by confessing actual digits. Although I’ve had flesh-and-blood friends appear on my blog before, there has never been one from quite so many worlds ago.

  4. #7 by carolyn on July 20, 2011 - 5:23 pm

    This is a super post. I keep falling into that “detail-obsessive snail’s pace.” Although I start out reading at “the speed of a reader,” I can’t help but get bogged down contemplating little things that most readers could care less about. I have never been able to maintain reader speed. Thanks for writing this. I don’t believe this “read like the reader” point has ever been articulated so succinctly (on the “how to” websites). And it makes perfect sense to force yourself to do that. You’ve uncovered the elephant in my room. Now if I can just keep it going…

    • #8 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 8:09 pm

      Thanks, Carolyn! I’ve never seen this point made anywhere, actually – it’s just what I do!

  5. #9 by Victoria Mixon on July 20, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    Read it out loud into a tape recorder. Then lie back with your eyes closed & a notebook in your lap and listen to it.

    Have Dave check on your periodically so he can mark any spots if/when you nod off. (I only say this because I once did this with a novel that did, indeed, put me to sleep!)

    You’ll be amazed how much you learn about your own novel–things you simply never knew when it was still just in print.


    • #10 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 11:06 pm

      Hi Victoria! Yes, reading out loud is a good one. I subjected young Dave to the entirety of Life Form 3 in verbal doses and it’s surprising what came out.

      But on my reader-pace run-through of MMOAFL, I suddenly realised some parallels were there that I hadn’t been aware of. To my great relief. I knew there was a reason why I did them.

  6. #11 by Zelah Meyer on July 20, 2011 - 6:04 pm

    I haven’t got to the editing stages yet but, in terms of writing tips:

    For my fantasy epic, I keep a separate document with the name of every character, place or thing that I invent (and include a few words to act as a memory jog as to who, what or where – e.g. ‘fencing stance’, ‘alchemy ingredient’). That, along with another file with a list of things you want to go back and fix or check later (so you don’t need to stop mid-flow of a first draft) are staples of any of my first draft works now.

    • #12 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 11:07 pm

      Hi Zelah – I like the idea of ‘fix-later’ documents to keep the flow going. Nice tip.

  7. #13 by Sally on July 20, 2011 - 7:40 pm

    Thanks for the tip Roz – may come useful to me now I’m close to the final edit myself. All the best with your release at the end of the month! 🙂

    • #14 by rozmorris on July 20, 2011 - 11:08 pm

      Thanks, Sally – and good luck with yours!

  8. #15 by kevinonpaper on July 20, 2011 - 11:15 pm

    I totally get that. Its what i’m experiencing with my first book too.

    • #16 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:26 am

      Hi Kevin! It’s quite a relief to get this far, though, isn’t it!

  9. #17 by christinecastigliano on July 20, 2011 - 11:36 pm

    Thanks for great suggestion. I’ve not picked up a certain ‘ugly first draft’ in a while, ’cause I know I’ll get into editor mode. And I just can’t take it on right now.

    But I could give it a fast lane read so It won’t feel ignored. Then let the subconscious figure it out while I’m sleeping, LOL.

    • #18 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:27 am

      Hi Christine! That’s a good idea, to read a very unfinished draft that way. Much better than wading in with the red pen before you know what to do.

  10. #19 by Jami Gold on July 21, 2011 - 12:26 am

    I like doing this “final read-through” (ha!) of the ms on my Kindle. That forces me to see it more as a reader and it’s a pain to stop and make detailed notes using that little keyboard. I stop just long enough to leave a note like “here” and then move on. 🙂

    • #20 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:28 am

      The Kindle – what a good idea. I haven’t even worked out how to make notes on mine yet. Another thing that’s been put on hold while imprisoned by this book.

  11. #21 by erikamarks on July 21, 2011 - 1:51 am

    Roz, yes–I am very near to where you are too–and this is such an important distinction. There are several ways to edit, broad strokes and fine-tips. I relish the broad-strokes-I’ll insert some notes as I go (ADD HERE, CHANGE HERE, CUT THIS?, etc) but keep the pace cracking.

    Can’t wait till you’re out–(But I bet Dave can’t wait MORE!)

    • #22 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:30 am

      Thanks, Erika! Yes, Dave’s looking forward to conversations again, instead of vague speeches about why I’ve rewritten something.

  12. #23 by PW Creighton on July 21, 2011 - 2:26 pm

    It is a great concept to keep the editing, revising and proofing divided into phases. It’s too easy to get sidetracked into editing at a snails pace. I know I usually slip into crawling edits when distractions come calling.

    • #24 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:36 pm

      Distractions, distractions… amazing how many different kinds we writers have to fight off!

  13. #25 by Markh on July 21, 2011 - 3:32 pm

    Hi Roz, I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the most common mistakes that first-timers often make when writing a novel. Plot, structure, all the biggies to avoid — might make a good post one day?

    • #26 by rozmorris on July 21, 2011 - 7:37 pm

      Mark, that does indeed sound like a great idea for a post. I’ll put my mind to it.

  14. #27 by Laura Pauling on July 23, 2011 - 1:09 am

    I also do this. It’s hard not to stop at the little things. I like your idea of just jotting down the page number. My wip is sitting for about 6 weeks and then I’m going to try and read it just like a reader would to catch bigger stuff!

    • #28 by rozmorris on July 23, 2011 - 2:14 pm

      I found it quite liberating, actually. Plus I spotted a point where the MC’s emotional state had moved on a notch, which I hadn’t taken proper note of. Good luck with yours, Laura.

  15. #29 by India Drummond on July 23, 2011 - 8:15 am

    I use Word’s comment feature for this, and just put a ### in the comment. It means, “I need to come back to this, but not now.”

  16. #30 by rozmorris on July 23, 2011 - 2:17 pm

    India, I’d wondered about using comments too. But I haven’t yet mastered how to get rid of them… Also, I’ve been using a different package for this book – PagePlus, which I’m using to typeset the print version. That means I can sort out widows and orphans as I go, and stuff like that. It doesn’t have a comment feature (so far as I can tell).

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