Private Code

A private code involves putting personal annotations on the text as you write. Some writers do this by:

• Underlining words, phrases, and sentences.

• Leaving blank areas in the middle of sentences, or a series of symbols such as stars.

• Using symbols or words in another language.

A private code is a sort of map of the thinking you do as you compose the first draft. It is your way of talking to yourself about what needs help without forcing you to slow down and fix it then. A private code permits you to continue writing down ideas even when you are aware the language is still incomplete.

Good writers have learned that pausing to look up words or checking data while they are writing slows their cognitive flow down and inhibits getting a clear sequence of ideas on paper. Further, good writers have found that when they write without marking a manuscript with a private code, they often mislead themselves into later thinking a piece of poor language is fine, and then they embarrass themselves by inadvertently carrying it on into a final draft.

Whatever code you invent, your intention is to mark places so that you can return to them easily when you write a second draft. Design a code that covers positives as well as negatives. The positives will mark places you felt confident about in your first draft, and knowledge of what you thought was good is as important as knowledge of places which need more work. Usually a private code is applied in computer symbols or fonts that are easily recognized later, but some writers print the draft first and then apply a private code in pencil or ink. Either way works as long as a map of the writer's thinking is provided which will aid the writer in the rewriting process.

So, invent your own private code. Keep it simple. Modify it a bit when you first use it but then stick with it. Memorize it. Write it down so you can't forget it between papers. Avoid changing your code drastically or changing your system between manuscripts. Changes may then cause your private code to end up confusing you more than helping you.

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