Friday, March 26, 2010

The Find Tool: A Writer's Best Friend

Does your editor say you have a problem with wordiness? Are you addicted to adverbs, the passive voice, ambiguous pronouns, unnecessary demonstrative pronouns?

If so, you're not alone. These problems hound every writer. But cheer up. Help is at hand. In fact, it's right there under your hand. It's called a mouse, and when it clicks on the "Edit" thinggummy in the top left-hand corner of your screen, then moves down to the "Binocs" icon and clicks there, you've found the solution to all your problems.

Well, okay. That's a bit strong. But at least you've found a great helper when it comes to the problems mentioned above, and many more.

You've probably already discovered this great friend, but you might not have thought of all the ways it can work for you. I'm going to write a series of posts on how I'm using it. If you discover some helpful ones here, that's great. If you've found some I haven't discovered yet, please comment so we can add your discoveries to the list.

Finding Adverbs

This first post is going to be about finding adverbs.

We've all heard the latest news: adverbs are clutter that keep us from choosing stronger verbs. But we were taught to use adverbs in school and it's a hard lesson to un-learn. They slip into our writing automatically. Hence, the need for revisions that ferret them out. This is where the find tool can help.

Many adverbs end in "ly". If you can eliminate those, you've gotten rid of much of your adverb problem. So the trick is to find all the "ly" words in your manuscript and kill the ones you don't need. The find tool can lead you to those pesky critters.

I hear you saying, "Oh groan. That's so much trouble. So nit-picky."

Yes, it is, but the nit-picking is worth the trouble, because going through this process will accomplish much more than the clean-up of the particular manuscript you are trying to sell to a nit-picky editor. As you do it, you're also developing great editorial skills. You're learning to recognize the problem, and you're practicing how to fix it.

And, great bonus here, you're also ensuring the problem does not happen so often in the future. Your internal editor will make sure of that. She'll be nattering in your ear: "See. This is bad. And if you'd learned to do it right in the first place, you wouldn't have to go through this tedious process." If you trudge through the process once, your next rough draft will need a lot less attention, because your mind will be re-trained to avoid adverbs.

So here's the procedure:

1) Set your cursor at the beginning of your manuscript.
2) Then do the mouse thing to find the binocs and click on it. A box will appear over your text, and your cursor will be blinking, ready and waiting, in the box.
3) Type "ly" and one space in the box.
4) Click on the "Find Next" box. The program will take you, one instance at a time, to every word that ends in ly (with two exceptions explained below). Make sure you put a space after the "ly" in the box. If you don't, the tool will highlight every word where the two letters appear together, and you are only interested in finding words that end that way.
5) You must then deal with every instance individually. Some "ly" adverbs you may decide to leave in, but many of them you'll want to delete and choose a more specific verb instead.

About those exceptions: when you type "ly" plus a space in the find box, the program will not take you to any "ly" words that have a comma or a period after them. If you want to do a thorough job you'll also need to search for "ly." and "ly,".

Adverbs that don't end in "ly" are not detectable with the Find tool. You'll have to look for them another way. But the process is invaluable for alerting you to the need to limit adverb use.

Stay tuned. Next post will talk about another editorial use of the tool. Don't know when it will appear. If you want to be alerted, put your e-mail address in the Feedblitz gadget at the top, left-hand side of the blog page. Feedblitz will then send you an e-mail notice when the next post is available.

Happy nit-picking! And please do comment if you have advice to add to this topic.

P.S. I checked this post for "ly" adverbs. Found three. Deleted two of them. Both were the word, "really." I didn't really need either of them. Don't need it here either, do I?

No comments: