Cara Sue Achterburg: The Amazing Discoveries to be Found When You Read a Manuscript in Reverse

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I’m reading backwards this week.


I’ve discovered that starting with the last line and reading a manuscript backwards, line by line, is a great way to do a final proof.

Seeing each sentence clearly all on its own makes it possible to spot all kinds of typos and grammatical errors your unconscious mind would otherwise gloss right over. It brings back memories of 5th grade English and sentence dissection (which I loved).

And reading the story in reverse also shines a spotlight on my own weird habits.

It was obvious that I get in ruts – writing sentence after sentence with an introductory clause or exclamation. Embarassing. And then switching to simple sentences one after another in a staccato line, before several pages of compound sentences connected by ‘but,’ obviously my favorite conjunction.

Adverbs rear their ugly heads like the voles in my sweet potato patch. Obviously, something must be done. If only it were as easy in the garden.

And then there’s my odd use of a goofy word repeatedly- one that didn’t stand out in the feverish forward read, but in reverse sticks out like the Valentine’s balloon caught in the leafless trees outside my window. Authors should only be able to use words like, squeezed, bleary-eyed, ominous, fresh, and surprised once per manuscript. Oh, and chuckled. I use that WAY too much.

I’m even growing annoyed with my characters. Why do they drink so much wine? Is it really necessary for them to sigh so often? They really aren’t so funny in reverse.

Picking apart my manuscript this way makes me feel exposed. What the hell am I doing? I suck at this. How did I EVER get published?

And as the corrections pile up, I think, my editor is going to wring my neck. I should have found this stuff long ago.

And then I doubt myself – is that truly a run-on sentence? Modern authors seem to take great leeway when it comes to run-ons. The definition has gotten muddled in my mind. What’s accepted these days? What’s still hand-smack worthy?

And how many times can I start a sentence with And and get away with it?

My 8th grade son had a grammar test today and listening to him reciting the parts of speech he had to memorize made me nostalgic.

He said, “I hate this stuff. I can’t remember it.”

I said, “Gosh, I wish I’d paid more attention to grammar when I was your age.”

“Why?” he asked. “It’s not like you’re ever gonna use this stuff.”

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On February 23, 2016

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