Hard Lessons | The Writing Site of R K Athey

Writer’s Blindness

I learned a hard lesson when I began writing with an eye toward publishing. I have one heck of a time finding my own writing errors. You are one of a lucky few if you’re gifted with wonderful self-editing abilities. The rest of us have real issues finding problems in our own work.

Why is smooth copy so important? Because one of your writing goals is to keep your reader in the story or article without thinking of the words you use to communicate. In effect, the words disappear and are replaced with whatever your trying to say, whether it be fiction, entertainment, or opinion.

For many, a poorly formed sentence or mis-punctuated passage yanks them out of your work completely. They have to work around the error to figure out what you’re trying to say. One friend called these ‘hard stops.’ It completely derails the reading experience.

This isn’t unusual. Your brain is a crafty organ. It knows how to get out of work by skipping things it already knows. The slang term for this is “writer’s blindness.” You know the story so your brain starts skipping words and misses malconstructed sentences over and over again. There are various tricks to overcome this. One is simply changing the screen and font size on your word processor. Your brain sees it as new and you’ll pick out a few more errors.

You write as your inner voice dictates. You read a passage and it makes complete sense to you. If the passage has a missing comma or mismatched verb, your readers may have to reread it a few times to understand what you’re saying. The way it sounds in your head his not the same way it sounds in theirs if your mind is playing the skip trick.

One way to avoid this is to read your work out loud. While your coworkers or housemates may think it odd to hear you mumbling to yourself while you work, this is a very effective tool for finding awkward passages. Different parts of your brain’s language centers activate when you speak. Often this is enough for you to find those bad spots.

Another trick is to find some friends willing to read your work and criticize it. Note, this isn’t just any criticism; it’s constructive criticism. Someone who glows over your work as the best thing they’ve ever read is as useless as someone who just says “it sucks” with no reason as to why.

Encourage your friends to sit down with a red pen or a word processor that tracks changes and write things like “awkward”, “had to read twice to get it”, “what?”, and other phrases that help you, the author, find those hard stops. Also have them mark any grammar issues even if they aren’t good at it. If something bothers them, it will likely bother someone else.

Lastly, I recommend finding a professional proofreader. If you find a good one, the money you spend will be well worth it to your readers. I’ll have more on that subject in a future article.

Hopefully this article gave you a few tricks to make your writing better. If you have other tricks of the trade please leave them below in the comments section.

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