- Mistyped words. I’m sure you’ve spotted these problems in your own work – the incorrect word that Word doesn’t underline because it is still a word and somehow is not grammatically incorrect. It might be that you typed able instead of table or a spoon instead of sponge. These aren’t the mistakes that Word feels the need to flag, but they aren’t what you meant to say and your ear will hear them.
- Repeated words. Sometimes, especially when I’m writing a piece of nonfiction, I use the same word, or a version of this word 3 or 4 times in a single paragraph. When I was writing about Pearl Harbor, sometimes it was unavoidable. There really wasn’t a substitute for Navy although I did have to get creative in the paragraph about a particular telegraph message. Using the word message three times in four sentences was just too much and my ear picked up on it right away.
- Spots that just go on . . . In addition to repeating single words, sometimes I give a particular chunk of information two or three different ways in just a paragraph or two. When I spot these mistakes, I’m never sure what I was trying to do. Did I cobble together two paragraphs and simply not cut enough? Maybe I was trying to emphasize something. Whatever caused the problem, when my ear hears the information a second, or sadly third, time, it notices and I know it’s time to cut.
If you haven’t tried reading your work out loud, give it a shot. I know it sounds like a huge task but I do it even when I’m working on a book. That’s no big deal when I’m writing a 500 word picture book, but for a 14,500 word piece of young adult nonfiction, it can be a drag, but I also find all the odd, rough bits and have a chance to smooth them out before my editor or a potential agent sees them.
Sue Bradford Edwards teaches our course, Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next section starts on January 5th.