Using Technology to Improve Your Final Draft

One Saturday afternoon, I sat in a packed conference room with about 150 other would be writers, listening to a conference instructor tell us the keys to self-editing our manuscripts. The number of people in the room spoke to how important it is to make sure your work is crisp, and as close to publishable as possible. Of course, the numbers also told me how many of us don't feel completely sure of our editing abilities.

The advice the instructor gave was nothing new, eliminate adverbs, redundancies, and clichés. Use active verbs, vivid metaphors and strong verbs. Then she dropped the one that I stumble on every time, "read your manuscript out loud."

I have some mental block that prevents me from actually trying this editing method. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that my husband already thinks I'm insane. If he hears me talking to myself in my office, he would have me committed. Then again, maybe it's my childhood fear of public speaking, even if the audience only consists of two cats and a dog. Whatever the reasons are I cannot bring myself to read aloud ? especially not my own words (shudder).

However, I have found an alternative to the embarrassment of hearing myself speak. Years ago, I invested in a speech recognition software (you talk - it types), which didn't work very well in my opinion. Even after hours of trying to "train" the software, it still didn't understand what I was saying. Despite its uselessness to me at the time, I kept the software on my computer, taking up precious hard drive space. Subconsciously a part of me must have known that I would need something that could read to me someday.

The morning after the conference, I printed a hard copy of my manuscript, fired up the speech recognition software, and followed along as my manuscript was read to me in the most unemotional way imaginable. Think a Speak And Spell? that knows all the dirty words.

The software could not interpret what it thought I meant to say. It just spoke every word as written.

If I forgot a comma, or some other needed punctuation, the computer kept reading at the same pace without pause. That helped me discover one long paragraph that turned out to be one long run-on sentence.

The software program also read the words exactly as typed ? typos and all. Did my hero whip or wipe the tears from the heroine's eyes? Typos like this can be funny when you run across them, but they make your manuscript look less than polished.

When you've read your manuscript to yourself, have you ever inserted words that weren't really on the page? You know you have, and you would insert missing words when reading your story aloud too, but the computer won't.

I did a quick internet search and found the particular speech recognition software I have for less than thirty dollars. Not a huge investment for a product that can help take some of the drudgery out of editing a manuscript, and make your final draft so polished your story will shine.

When Stacy Verdick Case (yes, that is her real name) learned that her dreams of being a comic book superhero would never pan out, she turned to writing instead. "In my writing world I can be anyone I want to be." She wrote her first "book" when she was in second grade, a jaunty little picture book entitled No Snow on Christmas, and hasn't quit writing yet.

Since 2000, when she began actively pursuing a career in full-length fiction, Stacy has penned five manuscripts. Her current manuscript, A Grand Murder, has received the following reviews from contest judges and published authors: "Wow! Great stuff!" "Intriguing, fast-paced, funny ? flawless." "Loved it!" "It's commercial, it's accessible and you describe your characters very well." "I like Catherine very much and was pulled into this story immediately." "Your snappy contemporary prose are refreshing."

A Grand Murder is the third place winner of the 2004 Daphne du Maurier award in the Unpublished Mainstream Mystery category.

Visit Stacy on the web at

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