Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Unbreakable Rule

I was giving feedback to a student whose work I've in the past enjoyed, but the latest submission was, frankly, not that good. Certainly not up to the standard I expected to see. What had happened?

He looked sheepish and explained. He'd had this bit of feedback and that. Someone else had said something. He'd taken it on board, then realised he was near the deadline for submission. Quickly he edited the text moving bits around, changing the order. Drat, over the word count. But he wanted to submit those scenes. Equally quickly he went through again cutting phrases he thought he could get rid of, then printed it out without reading through, and bunged it in the post. He was, he said, hanging his head, embarrassed to have submitted it.

It wasn't that bad. But it did show all the signs of a piece that had been hacked around. Non-sequiturs abounded, locations were never fixed, new characters suddenly popped up from nowhere. Confusion reigned in this poor reader's head.

Most of us are short of time. Most of us are rushing to meet deadlines. Shoving something in the post and hoping it will do is never a good option. It wastes your time and postage. It's frustrating for the reader. If you're in a workshop situation and getting feedback, you get stuck in the situation of nodding your head and repetitively saying, I know, I know, while the reader thinks, well if you know, why did you do it?

I don't think there are many rules about writing, and most of them can be broken. But this rule is one that shouldn't be broken. Never, ever, ever send work out without slowly reading it through aloud and checking it makes sense.


Christina Hollis said...

That's so true, Sarah. It's even better if you can get someone else to read it, too, although that isn't always possible.

Marilyn Rodwell said...

Thank you for that Sarah. That is often a tempting thing to do...not re-reading at the last moment. Panic is what prevents that last read, but often, panic reading often overlooks errors. Making structural the last minute changes is the devil here.


Sarah Duncan said...

Getting someone else to look over your work is so helpful - so long as they're not going to be completely negative and demoralising when your deadline is in a couple of hours.

And you're right, it's often the last minute structural changes that put the spanner in the works. Easily done though...