My least favourite part about writing is how blind I can get.
The more time I spend with a piece, the harder it is to see the words with fresh eyes. I miss mistakes that would be obvious to anyone — except me.
The psychological research on concentration suggests so-called “disfluency” promotes deeper processing, which is just a fancy science way of saying you can perceive more clearly if you make things slightly more unfamiliar.
It may sounds weird to say I want to dissociate myself from my native tongue, but when you’re submerged in language, getting a little estranged is the only way to come up for air.
Here are my methods:
1. Change the font to Comic Sans
No offence, Comic Sans. But you’re the laughing stock of the font world.
Still, even as a typeface reserved for birthday party banners, the world’s least professional font can be put to good use.
When I’m working through a difficult passage I’ll regularly switch from the distinguished likes of Georgia or Times New Roman to Comic Sans so my brain automatically dislikes what it sees.
Without attractive lettering, my mind has to work harder to make sense of the information. Errors stand out more,
because as the science of learning as discovered, the more difficult a task is, the more of our mental resources we’ll automatically put toward it.
Full disclaimer: I’ve never passed through an MRI scanner while writing, so I can’t know the direct effect a new font has on my cognitive processes.
Nevertheless, the writing improves.
2. Make a robot read it aloud
As much as I’d like to, I can’t follow the sage writerly advice to read my own work aloud. Like most media types, the office I work in is essentially a big room full of desks. So I can’t reap the benefits of hearing my wonky sentences and awkward word pairings instead of just seeing them.
Or can I?
Modern technology lets me feed those same words through a text-to-speech generator, of which the Internet has many.
A robot named Dave or Julie or Australian Karen “read” off a few hundred words and instantly clue me into mistakes I didn’t know I’d made. It’s not perfect, but that can be a good thing. Similar to the Comic Sans method, the software’s stilted pronunciation makes my brain work even harder to put the words together.
If after both those methods the words don’t grate on my eyes and ears, I can feel fairly confident the writing isn’t awful. If I want it to really shine, however, that takes a patient editor.