"Hunt down your habit, and train your mind to flinch at it."--Susan Bell
Every writer, like every human, is a creature of habit. In our writing, we all lean on favorite words, turns of phrase, and sentence structures (My name is Heather, and I love an em dash). In every project I edit, I make a list of words on which the client leans too heavily. The easiest way to seek and destroy these overt linguistic habits is to read your work aloud. It is also, in my humble opinion, the best self-editing tool in your arsenal. We all sound brilliant in our minds. I fill in gaps and my fancy word choices seem like perfection when I type them. But when we read our work out loud, those missing words become glaring holes and my overly clever word choice sounds weird and unnatural. Suddenly, you will notice that you use “suddenly” far too often. Alarmingly, you’ll hear that you start sentences with an adverb far too often. Sadly, you will notice you’ve repeated the same sentence structure far too often.
Take your current project (or section of a longer manuscript) and read it aloud to yourself. I find this is enough for me to catch unclear language or awkward structure. However, you may find you hear the work better if you record yourself and then listen back to it a few days later (without the words in front of you, you’ll be less likely to fill in the gaps or be enamored with your purple prose). For the truly brave, ask a friend to read the work to you.
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