Read It Backwards to Make It Better

When I was in school, my English teachers always encouraged us to read our papers backwards in order to help catch spelling and grammar mistakes. When I was a proofreader, and later an editor, the leads always wanted me to read documents backwards as the last step before I gave it back to them.

When I briefly dabbled in web design, I quickly discovered that reading backwards also helps catch tags that aren’t closed.

A couple of weekends ago, I got it into my head to watch Serenity and then Firefly right behind, except I watched the episodes in reverse order. Watching the entire series backwards helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before.

It made me think. I’ve been wrestling with flow issues in my fiction, and I wondered if reading backwards might solve at least part of the problem. So, I sat down with the storyboard for my current project, and I read the scenes in reverse order. Sure enough, I found a few spots where I hadn’t fully thought out the plot or a character, and I was able to address those problems right there. Doing that work means that I should end up happier with this manuscript when it’s finished, and it means fewer scenes that I’ll have to add in during the editing stage.

Reading your work backwards, be it a story, a process document, or code, causes you to look at your work in a different way, and it helps you see errors that you might have missed because your mind tells you that what you meant to write is already there. You’ll find misspelled words, missed punctuation, and dropped words. It’s an additional step that can help make your work look that much more polished.

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