Friday, February 26, 2010

Writing Hiccups

I think all writers have hiccups, although I have no scientific proof - those little things we do without even noticing we’re doing them. We can even go back, edit, and still not see those hiccups.

Last Fall, I attended a workshop lead by Russ Hall, a great author and wonderful mentor to up and coming authors. The workshop was called Getting Published. Each participant submitted to him ahead of time a query letter and opening pages of a current manuscript.

At the time I was not actually working on any manuscript except the nonfiction book I was under contract for, so I came up with an idea and whipped out the pages with only days to spare before the deadline, did a quick read-through and sent it in. Turns out Russ not only read all the submissions, he handed them over to his editor to read.

When I had my private session with Russ, he told me his agent really liked the story… until she got to page four. I lost her there. Why? Because I hiccupped.

I quickly scanned page four and saw she was right. I had hiccupped big time.

What was my hiccup? In that one page, I had used the word “she” fourteen times. How had I missed seeing that? I was rushing? Maybe. Probably because that word, until it was pointed out to me, was invisible. As I re-read before submitting, it didn’t register. It was invisible until I began to circle “she” on the page.

When I’m editing, something like this would have caught my attention in someone else’s manuscript. In my work, I knew the words so intimately that I glided on past the problem.

This is why you need to have someone else look at your work - a trusted friend, an editor, a critique partner. If you don’t have any of those, try recording it then listening back.

Have you ever noticed a hiccup in your work?
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30 comments:

  1. I can't tell you how many times I have. It's always something that should be glaringly apparent but I completely overlook it even after several edits. I really like the idea of recording, then reading back. I think I'll give it a try.

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  2. Also, it helps to put something to the side long enough to forget it. Then when you pick it up again you're almost like a reader and those shes or whatever hiccup have a better chance at getting noticed.

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  3. Helen,

    Just another example that editors can catch everybody's mistakes (or hiccups) but our own.

    I'm notorious for leaving out words—especially the word no.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

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  4. When I have physical hiccups, I chew a piece of ginger candy and they go away immediately. I am looking for the mental equivalent. If you find it, please share it with us all.
    I have a similar problem that Lillie has--my worst vanishing word is "not."
    I think the best solution is reading aloud as you suggested, but I'm not as convinced that you need to record and play back or not. It's amazing how much you can hear that you don't see. But you have to take the time to do that and that is a difficult habit to establish.

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  5. Oh wow...that happens to all of us, Helen. Another set of eyes definitely helps. I know my pitfalls and go back and look for them, too.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  6. More times than I care to admit...

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  7. Oh yes! You're right - we are so close to our work, we just don't see it.
    I do better than repeat - I leave out! I'll completely forget a word and never notice when I read it, because my mind tells me that's what it's supposed to say but my eyes miss that that's not what it says.

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  8. Yes, yes, yes! When I'm done with a manuscript, I always do a wordcount on a few cherished words that I can't seem to part with and then I clean those up. Reading the work out loud helps, too, to hear those hiccups.

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  9. I think reading aloud works the best if you imagine you're reading to a room of people. Not reading fast just to get through it, but interpretive reading. For me, that's when I catch missing words or phrases that need to be re-ordered.

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  10. I've begun to follow the advice of reading what I've wrote out loud. It definitely has helped.

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  11. My first draft is always one huge hiccup. I strive to edit them all out, but I'm sure I miss a lot. Maybe I should write horror so I could scare them all away.

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  12. Carol, perhaps you should be writing humor...you made me laugh.

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  13. Lol, mine was the word she! I could not believe how many times I had read it through and missed it. DH read it once and pointed it out.

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  14. Heavens yes. I've discovered hiccups and long coughing fits - which is where it takes me far too long to convey something.

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  15. Arrgh, Yes. My hiccups are incomplete edits, where I think of a better way to phrase something, but do not wholly delete the original text. Reading aloud doesn't work for me, I read the words that aren't there! Best cure—friendly reader.

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  16. I notice hiccups after I sent the "finished product" to iUniverse and had a bunch of books printed. I needed to change the Omniscient POV to Third Person. The entire book. Just a small hiccup. But thanks to our good friend Marvelous Marvin Wilson, we're almost finished.

    Great blog. And very frustrating to keep finding those darn pesky hiccups. Guess that's why God created editors.

    Stephen Tremp

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  17. Sure have. Word whiskers too. But usually ity takes someone pointing them out. There's also a program out there that will analyze your manuscript for such over used words. Now THAT'S an eye opener.

    You're right about being so intimately knowing your words your eyes just glide over them. Beta readers are a must.

    Good post, Helen.

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  18. Totally agree with and endorse this post. As an editor, I spot other authors' hiccups easily. But my own? I was shocked the first couple times when my ms came back from my editor with like oodles of highlighted words and/or phrases I'd used several times in close proximity. So yes, a trusted reader is a good practice before doing self-editing, before sending it off for pro editing.

    Saves face. (wink)

    Marvin D Wilson

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  19. I thrive on a second, third, and fourth pair of eyes! Hiccup so much it's ridiculous.

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  20. Marvin, that's what I do with some of my clients. I highlight their hiccups. It makes them stand out - sort of the way I quickly circled my hiccup in that piece.

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  21. Yup, I try to hold my breath and drink a glass of water, but those hiccups still come...Thanks for the suggestions.

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  22. I’ve had exactly the same one (among many others). I used she at least a dozen times on one page. Fortunately an excellent editor and friend pointed this out to me. She’s doing my next manuscript and I have a feeling I’ll still have many of the same hiccups.

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  23. I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to find my hiccups. It's great at finding overused and repeated words.

    There's even a report that would have shown you all your 'she' words :-)

    I use it to find all my excess 'was' and 'were'. My first draft is always FULL of them :-)

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  24. My hiccup is the word, that, and I always have to search them out. My first draft is always flooded with them. Thanks for letting me know we all have them.

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  25. Hiccups :)

    It's hard to see our own work with realistic eyes. I'm hoping it helps me with the ms I'm marinating right now!

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  26. Twenty-five years ago, I told a high school English class, in the snootiest possible tone, "I am not a good typist, but I can turn in a perfectly typed paper." Haven't done anything right since. Thank heavens for a sharp-eyed critique partner.

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  27. Janine, I've never heard of AutoCrit Editing Wizard. I'll google it.

    I often find myself going back and deleting extraneous "that" in sentences.

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  28. Someone pointed out my 'I's once, and I'm very conscious of them now. And then there are my 'and's.

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  29. OH yes, lots of hiccups. And rushing to get something done never works well for me. Another pair of eyes--several other pairs of eyes, is crucial for writers.
    Karen

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  30. Great post. I don't notice my hiccups until I've put the writing away and go back to it months later. That's when the mistakes come out. Before that I'm way too close to see them.

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