Writing is a solitary activity. Even in a crowded office, there’s you and the keyboard, your brain, your fingers. This can turn into a problem.
There’s no way of getting around it of course; it’s your work and the mechanics of writing are universal, dictated by the human body. However, it puts the writer in a uniquely vulnerable position. When I write something I am the only person in the world to know what it’s all supposed to mean before it appears on the screen.
So when I read my drafts back to myself, I’m going to see them with that knowledge already in place.
Fresh eyes for your writing
This in turn means that if I’ve written a sentence that doesn’t quite flow, or made an assumption that concept A is linked to concept B and not spelled it out, it’s probably going to make sense to me when I read it back. Crucially, though, it won’t make sense to other people every time.
Working by myself I don’t have the luxury of showing my writing to colleagues. You might, and if you can do it you should do so. The stuff you think is obvious but which needs explanation if someone else reads it doesn’t suggest the reader is thick; it suggests it’s missing from your copy.
Writing by yourself
If you can’t show someone else your writing, there are ways of tricking your brain into thinking you’re reading something new. Something I’ve always done is to change the font size. If your eye thinks it looks different your brain will start processing it as if it were at least partially new.
You could also extend the trick as my colleagues at the Henshall Centre do, changing the font completely including the colour. The more different it looks, the more you’re going to process the text as fresh. And if it starts looking unclear then it probably is. Finally, if you’re somewhere this is achievable, read it out loud. Author Graham Greene swore by this; if it sounds bad, he said, it’s badly written, and there are no exceptions.
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