Editing Challenge Day 14: Read With a Ruler

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

Today’s editing tip is a low-key one, in honor of it being a weekend, but it will still keep you thinking about your story and others in a new way. Sometimes we need to shake up our reading habits in order to edit better; the largest barrier to being smart editors of our own work is the blindness that sets in when it comes to reading our own sentences. We lose the forest for the trees, and we also start tolerating so-so sentences just because we’ve seen them again and again.

Today, read through your story with all the new changes you’ve made — but read it with a ruler underneath each line. This is what people used to do to read small type, and in fact it’s a trick I learned from reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. In that novel, a character seems to have a version of ADD or dyslexia and finds it hard to read because his eyes and his attention keep jumping all over the page. He devises a piece of paper with a rectangle cut out of it and reads that way, only able to look at one sentence or even just one phrase at a time.

As soon as I read about this, I was struck by it as a potentially useful technique not just for the ADD-afflicted among us, but for anyone who wants to increase her reading focus. It will force you to examine your own writing one sentence at a time. Does it sing? Does it feel clear, focused and forceful? Does one sentence follow naturally from the previous one?

Take it easy today, editors — but read thoughtfully, and you’ll be ready for some tougher editing challenges in the next week!

Ready to take your writing to the next level? Consider my professional manuscript consulting at editorial.blairhurley.com.

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