Thursday, October 25, 2012

SSBM (patent pending)

Let’s put aside all the craziness in publishing right now, shall we?...

... and get back to basics: writing. I think mine is getting better. I recently came across one of the very first stories I ever wrote and it made me realize how much I've grown. (It was a horrendous action/adventure piece that Michael Bay may have optioned had we ever met and had my skirt been short enough.)

Speaking of short… I’ve just put the finishing touches on a new short story. It’s based on the piece that got long-listed for a CBC short story contest this year, only it’s better. I’ve been in heavy editing mode for about two weeks and I’m sticking with the method that has saved my ass on more than one occasion: the SSBM (Small, Smaller, Bigger Method). 

The way it works is as follows: I write my story in 12-point font, single-spaced in Microsoft Word. Then I put it away for 24-hours, return and edit the thing on screen.

A few days later, I reread my story, only with one major change in technique: I read it on my iPhone, which means the font is very small, probably 8-point. Then I edit again based on that reading.

A few days after that, I re-format my story in Word again, this time double-spacing it. I edit it in that format, leave it for another day, read it again on my iPhone (again), change it back into double-spaced format and then KABLAMMO! The short story is, finally, good to go.

This is a technique I stumbled upon after years spent as a magazine editor at a bunch of trades you've never heard of. At one of my posts, not only was I the editor, but I was also the designer. Not because I knew WTF I was doing design-wise, mind you, but because budget dictated that I pretend to know. And AND not only was I editing and designing (and running production) but I was also writing the majority of the content. By the time it came to the final copy edit, these circumstances made it almost impossible for me to see any errors or lazy prose or omissions until…

… I switched up the formatting.

Here’s what I mean. When I thought I couldn't edit effectively anymore -- because I was too close to the words and I'd read them too many times -- I would lay out the story in InDesign. And wow! As if by magic, the mistakes and crap writing would reveal themselves. It was the same story, the same writing, but the format change from Word into the standard magaziney style made it seem completely different. It was as though I’d never read the article before, when I had likely read it five or six times. I’m telling you: it was revelatory. I could see my writing so clearly, it was as though I hadn’t written it at all.

I’ve been using this very method in my short fiction, even for various sections of my novel, and it works every time. Try it sometime yourself. I promise you, it’ll bring a freshness to your editing process that will improve your final draft.


  1. I sometimes read along as my computer reads the text. It helps me find some problems that stand out better hearing than seeing.

    1. Whoa. That sounds very futuristic, Erik. Sort of "Fitter, Happier" styles. Great idea!

  2. This is a great idea! I'm knee-deep in re-proofing The War Master's Daughter for its second edition, and it's still tough catching the little tiny things. The most success I've had is reading the book backwards, and being drunk.

    1. Hey Elly! The drunk idea is good too. You should patent it. And congratulations on doing a second edition! That's awesome.