Finding perspective – editing exercises

By: Antonia Hodgson

Exercises / All / Editing, Generating ideas, Igniting the imagination, Off the page, Planning your time, Rewriting, Starting to write, Writing a novel, Writing habit

In order to edit your own work, you have to be able to step back from it. The less familiar it is, the better. We can never be completely objective about our own writing – that’s why we need editors – but these exercises are designed to help you see your work in a fresh way. Once you’ve tested a few, you can make up your own. We tried this in a recent Arvon workshop and came up with all sorts of ideas. My favourite: wear a hat! Some of these exercises would be too intrusive to use across an entire novel, but they can act as a quick palate cleanser at the start of your editing day.

  1. Read your work aloud.

A very simple exercise and perhaps the most effective. It’s amazing what jumps out at you – from repetitions, to confusing statements, to pacing problems.

  1. Print out your work.

So obvious, I almost forgot to include it! If you’ve been writing on screen, you’ll find that reading and editing on paper makes a huge difference.

  1. Select a few pages and imagine you are going to read them aloud to someone you admire and respect.

In real life, preparing a piece for performance is a great way to spot potential problems. (Unfortunately, you are usually reading from something you’ve already published!) Imagining this scenario can be just as instructive if you really commit to the idea. And whatever you learn from this smaller segment can be applied across the entire work.

  1. Change your work into a different font.

A quick but clever way to make your work feel fresh. I stole this idea from Joanne Harris, but as she mentioned it on Twitter, I don’t think she’ll mind. Choose carefully, though. If you read your entire novel in Comic Sans, things will probably not go well.

  1. Pick a few pages of your work. Imagine you are a book reviewer or blogger. What would you say about the material – good and bad.

We tried this at an Arvon workshop and it was incredibly effective. It’s important to think of the good as well as the bad. This is not an exercise in self-flagellation.

  1. Meditate.

If this is something you already do or are interested in trying, it can be a wonderful way to start an editing task. Even five minutes can have a lasting effect.

  1. Play music

Different types of music will put you in different moods. It’s all about shaking things up. You could try reading a fast-paced action piece to a soft, melancholy song. Does the scene retain its urgency?

  1. Read aloud to someone else

I suggested this to a writer recently and we both agreed we’d hate to do this. But we also agreed it could be really effective. The problem is finding someone patient enough to listen. If you have someone like this in your life, why not give it a go? You could also try reading in front of a mirror, but honestly – the horror.

  1. Change where you work

This can be as simple as sitting at a different desk, moving to your local library, or (if you’re reading aloud), walking from room to room. Familiarity is the curse of editing. Changing your working environment can help.

And finally, do remember to take a break from time to time. Get out of your chair and move around. If you edit for too long without pause, you’ll lose concentration – and ruin your back!

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