Thursday, June 2, 2016

“When you say something, make sure you have said it”

After you’ve written a chapter or vignette for your memoir, set it aside for at least a couple of weeks. Don’t think about it for a while. 

Distance and time are your friends—they do wonders for objectivity—because the fresher the story is in your memory, the harder it will be to catch things you need to change.

Later, print out that chapter/vignette. Reading on paper is different from reading on a computer screen. I haven’t yet figured out why, but it’s true. I always notice glitches and hiccups on a written page that I miss on a computer screen.

Read your story aloud. Read it as if you were a stranger. You’ll be surprised at the changes you’ll want to make—changes that will improve your story for your readers.

When you say something,
make sure you have said it,”
says E.B. White.
The chances of your having said it are only fair.”

He’s right. Rarely do we write a clear message the first time, or even the second or third times.

I’ve heard that 80 percent of what we communicate is misunderstood.

In other words, we communicate accurately only 20 percent of the time.

That’s scary.

Read over your stories to be sure they’re clear. Be sure you’ve said what you meant to say.

Listen to this advice from a real pro, a long-time mentor of mine:

You write to discover what you want to say.
You rewrite to discover what you have said
and then rewrite to make it clear to other people.”
Donald Murray

And remember:

Revision is not punishment,” says Murray in The Craft of Revision.

“Writing evolves from a sequence of drafts,” he says. “Scientists…experiment…. Actors and musicians rehearse. Retailers test markets, politicians take polls, manufacturers try pilot runs. They all revise, and so do writers. Writing is rewriting.”

Instead of thinking of revision as punishment, think of it as an art—it’s polishing your manuscript and making it sparkle.

They can change individuals, families, 
communities, towns, nations—even the world!

Write your stories!


  1. This post is so completely RIGHT ON! Excellent advice. And yes it's super weird that printed pages make errors more obvious. It can be very frustrating to discover that after your paperback comes out! :p

    1. Hi, Lia, and thanks for your comment. Recently I've read articles on the fact that students comprehend their materials better if they're on paper rather than on a screen, and I suspect that's related to why we catch errors/typos more easily on a printed page rather than on a computer screen. Happy writing! I'm looking forward to receiving your book! :)