Good writing and good reading, which are usually the same things, should flow effortlessly or nearly so between the creator and the consumer. Making this happen is the essence of the writer’s craft. When I write, I mentally compose a rough outline, usually while on a long walk, then I sit myself down facing a blank computer screen. If my concept is sound and I’ve done my internal prep work well, images and ideas spring forth in a torrent. I let the words flow from my head out through my fingertips into the empty word-processing reservoir in front of me. I pay passing attention to sentence structure/length and word selection, but the plan is to get the ideas down before they evaporate.
Eventually, the fount of words will flow from my computer out over the inter-web to the print-on-demand publisher, to the e-book store, to the audio book website, and to the retailer. Then, when a buyer turns on the tap, my thoughts will course to him or her. When it all works fluidly, the reader (or listener) will drink in my ideas, my images, the output of my mindspring, just as I envisioned them. Water and ideas need to run downhill from the source to the thirsty recipient. Anything hindering this rivulet diverts some of the flow into the dry sands of oblivion. Thus, it makes sense to “write downhill” to let the ideas run easily, building momentum as they go.
Sacre Bleu! I left out the critical step, editing. My flow of ideas often is dammed, diverted, or polluted. The thoughts won’t flow downslope out of my computer. That is where SmartEdit comes in. There are two types of barriers to effective writing. The first problems are effectively dams, or at least weirs. Dogs whine for a walk, chores want doing, the world-wide-time-wasting-web calls, the omnipresent phone beeps, sleep beckons. SmartEdit is of no use in these situations unless I let it do its thing while I, and the dog, are gone walking.
The second type of obstruction involves boulders in the flow, whirlpools, diversions, pollution. Here, SmartEdit springs into action. Murky adverbs muddy up the perceived clarity. Did the protagonist walk quickly or stride? Vortexes of word repetition whirl. How many times did I begin a sentence with “The”? Dialogue tags swim upstream, he stated immodestly. Homonyms roil the surface. I didn’t dislike my high school, it was the Principle of the thing I couldn’t stand. Or was it the Principal? I try to avoid clichés like the plague, but sometimes they creep in on little cat feet.
It’s not how long your sentences are, it’s how you make them long. That is unless you commit a comma splice. Sentence length should vary across the piece and across paragraphs. Some rambling sentences can float the action for a whole paragraph using many subordinate clauses, dependent clauses, modifying clauses, asides, parenetical expressions, whatever. For example, check out the fourth sentence of A Farewell to Arms in all its 50-word glory by the master of the short sentence. Others should be short. Remember “Call me Ishmael,” by the Ship’s Captain of the 4000-word sentence? SmartEdit shows the writer where his overly-long sentences lurk. Word usage is another quicksand trap. Thanks to SmartEdit, I had been informed that I use “had” and “that” to excess. “Sacre Bleu!” notwithstanding, I usually do OK with French phrases, but zut alors, checking never hurts.
I let SmartEdit point out what a doofus I’ve been. Then, I correct the mistakes category by category, rewriting as I pole my literary pirogue across the bayou of the ideas flowing beneath. This process usually involves some extensive re-writing. As the aforementioned E. Hemingway once wrote, “Writing is re-writing.” The software will not suggest changes, that is up to the author, as it should be.
After SmartEdit and I stir up the writing, I go back through the piece, a chapter at a time. The howlers are gone. What was I thinking when I uncorked that 50-word deluge, that I was Papa himself? This second pass is the time to get it almost right, to make the words flow, to clear away the flotsam.
After I hit “save”, I let the turbulence subside by leaving the writing be. I pour a shot of Tennessee whisky, cook up a pot of file gumbo, take a walk, read somebody else’s book, or all of the above. A day or a week later, I’ll replumb the depths of the piece, with one final edit by SmartEdit and another slow pass through the manuscript, reading the tricky bits aloud. If it doesn’t sound fluid when spoken, the images and ideas won’t sink in to the reader.
Of course, no composition is ever finished, the river never stops flowing. I am never satisfied. For me, a book, a synopsis, a blog, including this one, is finally finished when one of two conditions are met; 1. When I ship it, or 2. When I’m sick of looking at it. Ideally #1 occurs before #2. The creative process, at least my creative process, is greatly enhanced by the use of SmartEdit. The software does the routine editing and checking, the boring tasks, and lets me do what I do best, which is write. Writing downhill is easier with the right software.
A guest post from Ed Cobleigh (June 25th, 2018)
Ed Cobleigh was born in New Orleans, LA and raised (but never grew up) in East Tennessee. He flew fighter planes for the US Air Force, the US Navy, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, and the Imperial Iranian Air Force. After his flying career, he served as an Air Intelligence Agent working with the CIA, FBI, and MI6. Cobleigh has visited 50 countries and Paris 50 times. His memoir, War for the Hell of It, spent 3+ weeks as an Amazon #1 bestseller. His literary aviation novel, The Pilot: Fighter Planes and Paris, received critical acclaim and generates robust sales. Ed has sold 21,000+ books in 12 countries.
For more information, see www.edcobleigh.com