08 Feb

Better Writing With Less Revision — Five Minutes to Re-train Your Brain

You know how to write in deep point of view (POV). You’ve read Jill’s book. You’ve read Chuck’s post. You’ve even made a list of “no no” words that rip readers from your character’s mind. That list gets major use–during revision.

If you’re like me, you wish you would have written it right the first time, but when you’re in that writing trance, your fingers carelessly spew words without consulting your rather accomplished brain.

Well, you could hire a writing coach to nudge you in the back with a pitchfork each time you mess up. Or, you could train Scrivener to highlight those “no no” words as you type so you can make corrections on the fly, thus re-training your brain to do it right from the beginning. Let me show you what I mean.

Here you’ll see text in Scrivener with several of my “no no” words mixed in. This is how it looks normally. Can you pick out the bad POV words? Click to enlarge if you desire.

Here’s the same page, with those POV problem words automatically highlighted.

Cool, right? Here are the instructions to set it up, which I got from the great folks over at Literatureandlatte:

  1. Click into the search tool in the toolbar (or use `Ctrl-G, Ctrl-S`) and paste in a space-separated list of watch words. For example: “very just saw”.
  2. Click on the magnifying glass icon in the search tool, and set the **Operator** to “Any word”.
  3. Optionally: **Search In** to “Text” (if you don’t want to scour notes and other casual writing areas), as well as “Search Draft Only” in **Options** (to focus purely on the WIP).
  4. Finally, in this same icon menu at the bottom, save your search as a collection, and give it a name. Now, whenever you want to do some scrutinizing, you can click on that tab and then work through the documents you’ve been writing in recently, checking for highlighted phrases. Note that as you delete or change the words, the highlight goes away but the others remain.
  5. You’ll probably want to edit this list as time goes by. You may note that when you click on that collection tab, your search options are reloaded automatically into the toolbar. That makes it easy to copy and paste the word list out of the toolbar, modify it, paste it back in and then save it as a tab (you can’t update an existing search tab, but we might add that capability in the future, so just make a new one and delete the old one).

Of course, it works with any list of words, not just POV problem words. Maybe you’ve got a problem with “was” or “very” or “ly” words. Just put those in your list and viola, you’re notified every time you’re about to use them.

No, it’s not as pretty as using a macro in MS Word, which can highlight each problem word in a different color as shown below, but it does something Word can’t by highlighting the words as you type them. With Word, you have to run the macro after the fact. Great for editing, not for re-training your fingers to do it better.

Highlights in MS WordIf you don’t have Scrivener, get it. If you have Scrivener, but still want to do this in Word, learn how to use macros. I started by visiting the fantastic site of Jordan McCollum, which is where you should begin too. Once you’re ready, you can get the code I used from the following text file.

HighlightListOfWordsMacroCode