I started to re-type my novel yesterday. Not rewrite it – re-type it. I sat with my edited paper copy on one side and my laptop in front of me and typed out every word of the first three pages. Do you know what I’ve discovered? That this is a unique but powerful way to line edit my work in progress.
For the past six weeks I’ve been working on refining my first two chapters in order to enter them into the Good Housekeeping novel competition. They have to be the best they can be. This has resulted in me examining my entire plot and altering a lot of big things in my main story arc, so much so almost a third of the book needs rewriting: including those first two chapters…especially those first two chapters.
So, I’ve sent them out to beta readers, read the text out at my writing group and gathered feedback – some of it contradictory, but all of it useful to understand how others see my characters and interact with the story beginning to unfold. I made changes, rewrote sections and discarded whole scenes (and characters).
Then I did an experiment. I signed up for a free online writing editor – mostly out of curiosity – called Pro Writing Aid. I plugged in my first two chapters and out came a whole report that identifies repeated words and phrases, highlights adverb use and passive verbs – it even points out inconsistencies in your writing of certain words (whether you’re using UK or US spelling, or capitalising one example word and not another). Granted, there are a lot of elements I don’t really understand (sticky sentences anyone?) but there’s also some very useful aspects – like demonstrating where the pacing might be slow and if that’s what you intended.
One of the key things that this editor was able to point out to me was just how much I repeat things. Not just words (although there were many examples where I had word repetition in just one short paragraph) but also phrases of four or five words within the same piece. ‘At the time’ was one of them, which I used twice in less than a page. It also showed me that I had characters shaking their heads and raising their eyebrows more than once in a scene, which challenges me to come up with less cliché and more descriptive prose. (And yes, there’s also a check on if you’ve used any clichés in your writing too!)
Finally, I sat down with my paper edits and started to type it all out again, examining each individual sentence for what it was. Is this what I want to say, does it portray the mood and the character adequately, is that even the right verb to use?
It’s amazing how much I was able to refine by this process alone. Re-typing a sentence that isn’t as sharp as it could be just isn’t worth it. I found it much easier to evaluate them as I re-typed them, assessing the words for what they really were rather than part of the whole text. It breaks down the process whilst also enlarges the technique: taking it one sentence at a time seems laborious, but the difference it makes feels weighty and concrete. It’s like polishing up my work for show, which – I suppose – is entirely the point. It’s me as a child, having done all my scruffy homework on scrap paper and only then transferring it to the sheet the teacher gave me to give the illusion I got it right first time.
Re-typing it also gives me a sense of improvement, real progress and development. This isn’t the same novel as the day the first words went onto the page, even if some of the words are the same. This is a brand new, sparkly novel that is just what I intended, not the shapeless, fuzzy draft I’ve played around with for the past few weeks. This time these sentences are for keeps, this time I’m happy with the final product.
It’s so cathartic. I feel renewed vigour and passion and self-belief. I’ve turned my draft into something that doesn’t just speak, it sings! Or that’s how it feels anyway, and I’m happy to go along with that feeling for now.
Have you ever re-typed your work as part of the editing process? Would you ever do it?
Let me know in comments, or Tweet me.