Take a peek in my writer’s toolbox

“The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty… but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible.” ~Edward Blishen

My SCBWI writers’ group had its monthly ‘schmooze’ Saturday morning at Kaffe Latte.  A relatively new group, we’re still exploring how we can best meet each other’s needs, but no matter in what genre each of  us writes, we all love new writing tips and tools. This month we decided to focus on editing and here was my contribution–stuff I keep in my writer’s toolbox.

  • In the book category, an excellent tool is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Professional editors themselves, Renni and Dave teach writers how to apply techniques as an expert editor would. Many examples from the real world illustrate their points about issues such as dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, passive vs. active writing and more.

If you have reached the point where your story is ready for a good thorough edit, this book will help take your writing up to the next level. By next month’s meeting we all hope to have a copy where we can tackle the formidable task of slicing and dicing our beloved words.

  • The next item in my toolbox is simply listening to the story. Reading it aloud. This is a powerful tool. So many things show up with an oral reading. Not just missed words, but the flow and voice. Besides reading to yourself, there those loveable automatons Microsoft Sam and Michelle, who lurk inside MS Word. Think of them as your own personal robots. They read your ms exactly as it’s written, not as you think you see it. (Find them on the Menu bar>’Tools>Speech)

There are other text-to-speech programs like Natural Readers. Their free version comes only with Sam and Michelle, but you may purchase  individual natural sounding voices with various accents, something to consider if you use it a lot. Some of them sound pretty darn good. I’m a sucker for a British accent, so I especially like Peter (that’s Peet-uh) the male,  British English speaker. Imagine, ‘Peet-uh’ could be the voice for your next audio book.

The major advantage of downloading the free version of Natural Readers is the mini-toolbar that will read web pages for you. I let Microsoft Michelle read my blog post before publishing and she found a number of  mistakes because I could hear them.

  • My next favorite tool is Autocrit. This online editing tool is the only software I’ve found worth the money. It’s simple and does just what it says. When you copy and paste your text into the Autocrit box, your overused words, repeated phrases, and sentence length variations are highlighted. That’s the free version. For $47 (annually) your cut and paste yields additional highlights of repeated words, dialogue tags, first word repeats, names and pronouns, and repeated phrases summary.

I cannot tell you how many times I had what I thought was a really clean edit until I popped it into Autocrit and saw how many times I started a sentence with the same word, or repeated a word three or four times in one paragraph. There are two higher grades versions, which I have not used but include cliche, redundancy, homonym, readability and pacing reports.

  • The next item is not one usually included in the editing process, but one I find invaluable, no matter what stage of writing I might be in. That is to feast on great books, especially in my preferred genre at the moment. I like to think that I absorb some of the flavor of the masters and that they will altruistically sprinkle some of their fairy dust over me as I write.
  • Another trick that works for me is reading my text in a different format. For some reason, I catch more mistakes when viewing my words in a published-looking format, like the “preview” in this blog, or reading it on Autocrit. Changing fonts within your word processing program might also help.  And don’t forget to increase the font to extra large before sending your work out to the world. Those double periods and hidden punctuation marks stand right out in Arial, size 26.
  • Finally, a tool I’ve recently employed and come to love is my storyboard. I love it’s view-a-bility and flexibility. With plot points on sticky notes, I can move them to a different part of the story or destroy them altogether if they are no longer relevant. It’s much easier to move or delete ideas on a sticky note on the wall than it is when they are buried in my manuscript. Once I have a really solid storyline, I plan to put them on index cards.

With the storyboard I can have all the plot points visible at once with the added bonus that it gets me out of my chair and away from the computer.  As it is, I spend too much time hunched over my computer, flipping back and forth between files anyway. The storyboard achieves more than than the writing structure software I tested, there’s no learning curve and it’s virtually free. Having the major plot points laid out, in scroll fashion, creates visual signposts and I can step back and see the whole story in one fell swoop.

That’s all for now. So tell me, what’s in your writer’s toolbox?

8 thoughts on “Take a peek in my writer’s toolbox

    1. Funny how that works. I keep a spiral notebook handy and carry problematic scenes in my head. Spirals are so portable, plus there’s the tactile rewards of being able to scribble all over the page!

  1. I literally have a writers box – not toolbox, note – containing loads and loads of post-its with indecipherable scribbles upon them. Every so often I collect these scribblings onto an A4 sheet of lined paper, where I try to shoehorn the ideas into my latest story. Oddly it also contains all sorts of half-used pharmaceutical products that have no bearing upon writing at all. Regarding reading out loud – I must find a distant place where I can be alone, and try it. I have an English accent, so therefore I must be perfect for it!

    1. Post-it notes and out of date drugs…interesting box. Seems like you of all people could figure out a way to dovetail them together.

      Maybe you could market that English accent for audio programs. I still haven’t paid to have Peet-uh to read my stuff. Should I wait for a Tooty reader?

    1. You do well at the dark humor thing. Stephen apparently has a better speech synthesizer than Microsoft Sam, but he is not happy that it gives him an American accent. Someone should introduce him to Peet-uh.

      Good thing I wasn’t drinking (coffee only) when I listened to Fanfare for the Common Hamster in Sam’s mutant robot voice. Too funny.

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