Let’s face it, folks. Editing is one of the hardest things about writing. Sure, it can be tough to sit in front of a blank page and get started, but I think it’s even tougher to sit in front of a completed piece with red pen — metaphorical or not — in hand. When faced with a piece that you have deemed finished, it can be difficult to decide where to cut and where to pare down. Even more difficult, in my opinion, is taking that step back and surveying your piece as a whole to see what is missing and what needs to be addressed as you pursue the editing process.
Yes, editing is a thorny practice. Luckily, there are a lot of great tips out there for you. For instance, there is this Lifehacker post that contains five great tips for editing your own work. Their big, main points include printing out the piece you want to edit, putting distance between you and the completed piece, reading the piece aloud, pretending to be in the piece’s intended audience as you look at it, and being ruthless with what you’ve created. These are all fantastic tips and I think they’ve really hit on the five main tenets to remember when editing your own writing.
My personal favorite on this list, which is a piece of advice that I swear by for my own work, is reading your work aloud. Quoting from the post:
“…actually listening to your written syntax is one of the best ways you can catch areas with jangling phrasing. Read your work out loud and change anything that doesn’t make sense or that you stumble over.”
When reading something silently, it’s easy for your eyes to simply gloss over possible errors or clunky sounding phrases. When you’re reading it out loud, for some reason that forces your brain to work harder at deciphering the words you’ve put down. This will immediately ferret out anything that doesn’t sound quite right.
We’ve talked about writer’s block often and at length here on the blog. But we haven’t really talked about creative block. Here’s why I think there’s a difference between the two. When writer’s block strikes, you can’t seem to write anything. But when creative block strikes, you’re getting words written, but they may not be as exciting and colorful as you’d like. Your creative juices aren’t flowing, even if your fingers are flying along that keyboard. Sometimes a writing routine can milk you of your good ideas until you feel like your writing is bland. The whole point of keeping up that writing routine is to keep putting words down, but will it matter if everything you write is just like the last thing you wrote?
A post on LifeHacker this week posited several ways of boosting your creativity. There are some great tips on this list such as restricting yourself and seeing how creative you can get while working around those restrictions, indulging in some healthy daydreaming, and exercising to get your brain working. But my favorite tip on the list is to “separate work from consumption.”
Also known as the “absorb state,” this technique has been shown to help with the incubation process and is far more effective than trying to combine work with creative thinking. It makes sense too—we are often in two very different states of mind when absorbing an activity and when we are trying to create something.
I may have written about this before, but there are days when I feel like absorbing creative works (input days) and days when I feel I need to create my own projects (output days). As soon as I realized that this was something my brain was doing on its own, I tried to be conscious of when output days struck, and when input days came along. Separating those two and knowing which mood I am in has helped me do research and write more effectively. Check out LifeHacker’s tip list and see which ones might help you with you writing.
Are you familiar with the concept of lifehacking? There are plenty of Tumblr posts on the subject and there’s even an entire website devoted to the idea. Basically, life hacks are tips and tricks that will theoretically help you live a more efficient life. Apparently there is a subset of life hacks just for writing. This weekend, a member of my writer’s group sent out a link to this writing hack on Reddit:
Put a song with no lyrics (or foreign lyrics) on repeat.
It seems too simple to be effective, but it has worked for me without fail. The music fades into the background and helps maintain flow, not sure exactly how. But it does.
I use the same song (plus an assortment of similar remixes) every time I work. When it comes on, I pop into the flow and get to work.
I love this writing hack idea and have used it quite frequently myself. In past posts I’ve written about the fervor of a write-in during National Novel Writing Month. To help maintain my momentum at these writing events, I plug my earbuds into my ears and keep them there during our word wars — sustained periods of writing for, usually, 17 minutes. I don’t want to worry about tracks changing or about albums running out, so I usually put just one song on repeat and let it play during the word war. This past year, the soundtrack from the BBC’s Sherlock helped me out a lot.
I like the idea of using the same song or the same playlist of songs each time you sit down to write. Not only would that help to create the flow and rhythm for your work session, but it might also create a connection in your brain between those songs and writing. If that were to happen, those songs might always trigger the desire to write and might help you get more work done.
If you’re looking for a way to gain and keep a momentum during your writing sessions, give this writing hack a try.