The question I’m most asked by writers on Twitter is ‘Can you take a look at my work and give it a critique’.
As a committed author, who works a full time job, including a London commute (you’ll know all about my commuting troubles if you follow my Twitter feed!), my time is precious. I’m not alone—the same is true for most modern writers.
And, having read a great deal of under-polished, under-drafted work, I certainly wouldn’t contemplate critiquing anything that’s not been edited. I’m not being elitist, far from it. No matter what your level, a professional approach to writing is, in my opinion, the most important function of the modern author.
As such, we have to use every avenue and every resource available to produce tight, highly polished manuscripts that can pass muster with all those critics out there—including myself! So how can we do this?
Getting the most for your money
Editors can cost a fair penny, and if they’re dealing with more fundamental problems with your prose (instead of looking at the manuscript as a whole), your money will not be well spent. That’s why I always make sure my manuscripts are the best they can be, before they go to the editors.
Let me put my hands up, I write as much terrible prose as anyone else. My first drafts read like they’ve been scrawled in crayon. My advice: keep redrafting. And when you think you’re done, redraft again. After that, I suggest a few more redrafts and a final redraft just be sure. As well as a quick post-final redraft before your final, final, final, final redraft…
The problem with redrafting? We’re so close to the manuscript that we become blind to its problems. To combat this, and to speed up the process, I use an online program called AutoCrit. It’s a vital step in my editing regime that I’d recommend to all authors, new or established.
Authors use the term ‘bottom drawer’—it refers to the editing method of writing your manuscript, editing it and ‘finishing it’ before leaving it alone for a few months. When the writer goes back to the story after that time, the manuscript’s flaws and problems are more apparent. This is a long process and the writer may still miss glaring errors such as repetition, cliché and lack of flow.
AutoCrit quickly identifies such problems in your manuscript and is invaluable at helping to spot your bad habits. All you need is an internet connection and you’re ready to go. No installing software and you can use it for free on up to 15,000 words at a time—you’ll receive a comprehensive report that includes sections for almost every focus area that AutoCrit offers.
Why use an online editor?
I’ve written for many years, and I thought I was on top of my bad habits. My big problem? Repeating the same words and phrases in close proximity. It’s like my brain gets turned on to a word or phrase and there I am, repeating it over and over again like some writing idiot. And I’m snow-blind to them. But I didn’t realise what a problem this was until I used AutoCrit.
This simple-to-use copy & paste tool highlights my erroneous repetitions, my overuse of ‘all’, ‘little’ and any number of other words, but also gives me stats on overuse of more common words like ‘feel/felt’, ‘that, ‘it’ and a whole host of other problematic lazy phrases that can easily creep into my sentences when I’m not looking.
At first, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to trust my writing to a faceless algorithm. But like notes from my editors, I always make the final decision on what stays in and what goes.
I’ve been using AutoCrit successfully for over two years—and even now, after multiple writing projects—I still convince myself it won’t be needed. But I’m always mistaken. AutoCrit is a vital last step before I send my manuscript off to my editors. Not only does it save them time and effort, it saves my blushes… which would be multitudinous.
In conclusion, AutoCrit is no magic solution, but it will certainly help you refine your writing skills. And in such a competitive field, we need all the help we can get.