• The Importance of — gulp — Reading Your Writing Aloud

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 12 comments

    RecordingOn our recent post about the different types of editing, WriteByNighter Glynis J. commented, in part, “I definitely am going to beg, borrow, and steal to get the professional copy editor. I paid attention in all of my English classes but… you know what I mean.”

    I wish I’d paid attention in my English classes, because then I wouldn’t have to ask Justine “What’s a subordinate clause?” and “Just what in the hell is pluperfect?” In a couple of weeks we’ll discuss whether one needs a strong grasp of grammar in order to be a writer. It’s a question we’re asked often.

    But today we want to address the “beg, borrow, and steal” aspect. While we strongly encourage you to hire a professional copyeditor when your manuscript is ready (of course we do — copyediting is one of our offerings), we understand that it’s not always feasible. So if you’re in a situation similar to Glynis’, we want to suggest a great strategy to help you edit your own copy.

    In fact, we recommend doing this even if you do plan to hire a professional. After all, as we discussed a few weeks ago, even with a professional editor there is always a margin of error. The more eyes on your work, the better the chances of spotting goofs.

    So are you ready? Because for some of you, this could get ugly.


    Sorry, Phonophobes

    Boy, do I despise the sound of my own voice. Most of us do. Here’s a non-geeky explanation, if you’re curious to know why. Or you might prefer to leave the science to the scientists and watch this fun Seinfeld scene instead.

    (For whatever reason, I do like the recorded sound of my own laughter. Are any of you the same, where your own voice sounds hellish but your own laughter delightful? What’s that all about?)

    So, this may not be the most attractive activity, but it sure is effective: Record yourself reading your writing aloud.

    And then — gulp — listen to it.

    Because of that whole hating-your-own-voice thing, you may wonder why you must record yourself, rather than, say, asking a friend to read your work aloud to you. Well, the answer lies in the fact that this is a two-step process, and the first is just as important as the second.

    [Tweet “”This isn’t the most attractive activity, but… Record yourself reading your writing aloud.””]


    Slow Down, Ya’ Move Too Fast

    You know that thing where you suddenly pause while reading a book and realize that it’s been pages since you’ve paid any attention?

    (I can’t seem to find a term for that, so rather than continue to call it “that thing,” let’s have a contest and come up with our own. What should we call that thing? Leave your idea in the comments below, and whoever comes up with the best/funniest gets a free book in the mail.)

    Whatever that thing is called, it’s a bad thing. And although it’s always a good idea to print out your manuscript and read it — you catch far more typos and other goofs than you ever will by reading on a screen — even with your own work, you’ll sometimes drift off and lose all track of what you’re reading.

    But reading your writing aloud forces you to move more slowly. Even if you’re a motormouth. And moving slowly makes you more aware of each line, each word. Why does that matter? Because when it comes to editing or proofing copy, each and every word is important.

    As you’re reading your writing aloud into a recorder, follow the words with a red pen, and make marks when you spot typos or hit a section you want to revisit to investigate issues with clarity, flow, plot, etc. (Doing this requires some multitasking skills, and even then you won’t catch everything. Always read your writing internally, too, to find goofs.)

    But as much as you can, let yourself get lost in the reading. This will come very much in handy when you get to the next step.

    [Tweet “”Reading your writing aloud forces you to move more slowly. Even if you’re a motormouth.””]


    Hear Ye, Hear Ye

    Now buckle up, folks, because here’s where it gets scary. You know that recording you just made? Rewind to the beginning, take a deep, deep breath, and hit “Play.”

    Because listening to your manuscript being read aloud will allow you to hear how your prose sounds. And hearing how your prose sounds allows you to identify trouble spots. Here are a few things to listen for:

    Bumbles and stumbles: Is there a sequence of words you trip over while reading them aloud? Then there’s a good chance your reader will stumble when reading them.

    Gasping: Do you need to pause and catch your breath in the middle of a line? Maybe it’s a run-on sentence. Are you out of breath by the end of a paragraph? Maybe that paragraph needs to be cut into two.

    Clunk and bunk: Does some of your dialogue sound flat, unnatural and/or stilted when read aloud? Does it sound like the overdramatic stuff of soap operas? There’s probably a reason for that, and it needs to be addressed. Because the way your dialogue sounds when read aloud is very close to the way the reader will “hear” it in his or her mind.

    Beware only looking for flaws, though. It’s essential to pat yourself on the back when identifying something you’ve done well. Do you catch yourself inadvertently speaking more quickly as the climax approaches? That probably means you’ve done a great job with pacing and with rising action. Good for you! Do you laugh out loud when listening to the recording? And is the reader supposed to laugh out loud at the same passage? Well hot damn, super-difficult mission accomplished.

    [Tweet “”Listening to your manuscript being read aloud will allow you to *hear* how your prose sounds.””]


    Crowd Schmowd

    A final perk to reading your writing aloud and then listening to it is that when that blessed day comes and your manuscript is published and you begin lining up events, you’ll be more prepared; you’ll have already practiced reading your writing aloud.

    You likely will also have identified passages that make for good live readings. Few things are more awkward than watching a writer trip and fall when reading his/her work aloud; it becomes painfully clear that he/she hasn’t practiced and has put no thought into that passage’s oral readability.

    And if you’re nervous before or during a reading, just remember: yes, this time there is a scary audience, but no one in that crowd can possibly hate your voice as much as you do.


    Discussion & Etc.

    Mic2On a scale of one-to-nails on a chalkboard, how much do you dislike the sound of your own voice? What are some strategies you employ when editing or proofing your own work? What is the meaning of life? Did you come up with a fun word or phrase to signify that thing? Let us know in the comments section below.

    For weekly writing-related goodies in your inbox, join our mailing list, which you can do in the right sidebar. We’re also on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Hint hint.

    For some related posts, try:

    When Should I Stop Rewriting?

    Manuscript Preparation: How to Do it Right

    Stop Starting and Start Finishing Your Writing

    Conquer Your Fear of Writing … By Writing


    David DuhrWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is books editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and others.


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    Glynis Jolly

    Seeing that most editors, no matter what their specialty is, charge by the hour, this will cut the cost a little — I hope. My voice isn’t too bad except when I hear it, I’m always surprised at how high the pitch is. I want to think of myself as an alto, but my voice says I’ve definitely a 2nd soprano. My problem is going to be stopping myself from yawning. And it may not be because I think my story is boring either. When my son was a child reading to him was awful for both of us because… Read more »


    That thing: Driftreading. Absentminded letter recognition. Neglectful page turning.


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    Cheryl Abney

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    Ken Harris

    “In trying to recall the last few paragraphs, I realized I’d given them the ERBE” (Eyes Reading-Brain Elsewhere).

    […] The Importance of — gulp! — Reading Your Writing Aloud: […]

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