Something I hate is peer review. When it’s creative writing, there is something toe-curlingly cringey about having to assess someone’s work who you know well. But luckily I haven’t had to do it for a while. But whilst it may be incredibly embarrassing to begin with, it may just be what you need. Here are a few tips (from someone who is constantly battling with her own bugbears) on how to fine-tune your writing.
1. Leave it
Writing, like anything creative, happens successfully when you’re in the mood. Monet didn’t paint his waterlilies when he didn’t feel like it, just as you shouldn’t write when your eyes are closing, when you’re too angry to think straight (unless of course, you find that you want some literary therapy), or when you’d rather be doing a million other things. But not just that. Leave your work when you’ve done a bit, and come back to it. Things which didn’t flow right and you couldn’t seem to correct will be glaringly obvious after a good night’s sleep/cup of strong coffee/session of mindless TV (delete as appropriate).
2. Read it out loud
Nothing can illustrate just how many times you use that same word or grammatical structure like reading it out loud. If you particularly like a word (mine, for example, is ‘incredibly’) then you will block it out, and it isn’t until you verbalise that annoying, pesky word which pops up EVERYWHERE, that you will realise you need to find a synonym!
3. Halve your sentences
Especially if you’re writing academic prose, or something which requires a higher register, it can be easy to lose sight of the ‘write simply’ mantra. While you need to maintain a certain level of formality, don’t lose sight of the wood for the trees. Could someone who doesn’t know the subject intimately follow your sentences? If not, chop them in half. Delete superfluous words. Write tightly.
4. Consider what words mean to you
In the Early Modern period, writers who were glossing words from Latin often used two words instead of one to translate a meaning. They were hedging their bets, because they didn’t want to give too precise a meaning: but now we’re writing in English and we don’t need to do that. Doubling, of course, is a very valid literary device, but it isn’t always used for effect. Think long and hard (see, doubling), about the effect you are going for, and if this can be created in one word, not two, then pick the best one.
5. Take the plunge
Taking the plunge for me would be peer review. I often use my parents, because they can laugh about the fact I use incredibly more times than I blink, and the fact that often my sentences are so muddled, it is me myself and I only who understands the point. Use someone you trust, who will be honest with you but doesn’t have a vested interest to rip you to shreds. I find a good old Mum or Dad works well for this, because if all else fails, you can just sulk in your room, and a peace offering of breakfast in bed normally follows. Win win.
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