Writing Wednesday: 3 Ways to Assess Your Own Work More Effectively

pumpkin-pie-520655_1280.jpg
Courtesy of skeeze @ pixabay.com

I often say that writers are they own worst enemy when it comes to assessing their own work — that they become so attached to their own work that they don’t see hardly any of its flaws. Having a beta-reader, professional editor, or any completely unbiased thirty-party can mitigate much of the pain that comes with revision.

Yet although I advocate having a second pair of eyes all the time, I understand that not every writer has access to such resources or allies. Maybe your friends and family don’t believe you should be writing at all. Maybe you can’t afford a professional editor at the moment. Maybe you just want to get faster at writing, making less mistakes so that things are publish-ready.

Believe me. I struggle with this, too. As much as I love beta-readers and editors, I don’t want to rely on them every time I finish a piece of writing. I want to learn from my own mistakes and improve in the future in a more holistic way, not just as a one-time fix.

Whatever the case may be, here are 3 ways to remove the bias you have towards your own work so that you can critique it as effectively as possible.

Oh, and don’t worry. We’ll get to the pumpkin pie in a moment.

Ready?

1. Set your work aside for at least 2 – 4 weeks.

Imagine for a moment that you’re baking a pumpkin pie. Whether from scratch or out-of-a-box, you put the pie in the oven. You set the temperature. You let it bake for the 45-to-60 minutes or more the recipe tells you before you eventually take it out of the oven.

Hooray! It’s finally done. Time to dig in and see how it tastes, right?

No, honey. Not even close. Because that pie needs to rest. The filling has probably risen about a half-inch, and if it’s way too hot for you to touch, it’s most likely way too hot for your tongue. You need to let it be.

The same thing goes for your writing.

Your story, novel, or whatever you’re working on might have been in your artistic creative oven for 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, or even 1 year. But the fact still remains that you likely wrote that piece hot and with passion. You’re still biased towards it (and technically, you will always be), but it and you need time to chill. You need to take the time to look at your work with the same, cold, detached perspective you use to write reviews on Goodreads (don’t lie — I see you rolling your eyes at that romance novel you put down).

The period of rest each writer needs depends on length of the work and personal comfort, but I’ve heard that 2 to 4 weeks away from your writing is pretty standard, and that’s what I try to use. Give it a shot, and see what amount of time works best for you.

2. Use “yes-no” check lists.

Using “yes-no” checklists can make the mammoth task of revision much easier.

What’s a “yes-no” checklist, you ask?

Something like this checklist. Or the check lists at the end of each chapter in Lisa Cron’s wonderful Wired For Story. 

I specifically like “yes-no” check lists because it helps me assess the multiple parts that make up all of my stories. Again, going back to the pumpkin pie analogy, when I take that first bite after it’s cooled off, I get a lot of information at once — the done-ness of the crust, the strength of the spices, the sweetness of the filling. But instead of getting overwhelmed, I can focus on one aspect of it at a time and keep track of my progress when baking the next version of my pie — when writing the next version of my story.

Check lists also don’t leave room for second-guessing. You either have “understandable language” or you don’t. You either have adverbs in some sentence and defend them, or you don’t. They hold you accountable for your work and the decisions you make without someone breathing down your neck. While you’ll likely end up making several passes through your manuscript devoted to each aspect of the check list, it’s better than jumping back and forth between multiple parts and getting confused. Some parts might overlap, and that’s okay. At least you know which ones are tangled.

Check lists keep things simple, and I like that.

3. If you can’t rely on reading aloud, use a text-to-speech reader.

I often read loud when proofreading. But even then, I sometimes don’t catch my mistakes.

However, having a text-to-speech editor read back to me will.

A text-to-speech editor is like having your friend read your work except your friend is a non-judgmental, unfeeling robot who repeats back to you whatever you put in a text box.

It’s perfect 😀 ! No pausing to breathe. No pausing to tell you about a puppy they saw recently.

Anyway, the point is that having a text-to-speech editor (or any third party) read your work aloud about to you allows you to hear your words at a distance. When writing, you’re far too close to your words. You’re creating them instantaneously. When reading them aloud, again, you can be too close to the words. You brain can fill in letters that aren’t there or not catch any weird spellings. Of course, things like intonation and fantasy name pronunciations are lost when using software like that, but trust me. It helps.

Try picturing a robot reading your words. All the weird intonations will probably make you laugh and help you make revision less stresslful. That’s what we all want, right?

Anymore strategies you guys know of?

Let me know in the comments if you often do self-revision. What strategies do you take? Or do you prefer relying on an editor or beta-reader most of the time? I’d love to hear what you guys think.

But for now, that’s it from me.

See you guys on the next post!

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