When In Doubt, Read it Out (Loud)

I worked on a piece of writing over the past weekend. It was the first new writing I’ve done, of any substance, since last fall, when the book I’m editing took over my life and started strangling my creativity like kudzu.

The rough draft poured itself onto the page Saturday morning. That afternoon, still feeling inspired and creative, I continued to work it like a potter with a lump of clay, finding jagged edges and smoothing them down.

Then I left it alone for a day. It’s a little-known fact that words need to sit in a quiet, dark place, such as a sleeping hard drive or a closed journal, in order to achieve their full essence.

Sunday afternoon, I pulled it out and read it through. Once I knew the thing was interesting enough to be worth revising, it was time to edit.

I worked through it paragraph by paragraph, trying to make the flow of my own thought more accessible to anyone else who might read it.

Finally, when I knew one more silent read-through would not reveal any new flaws, I read the piece aloud.

This is something I often encourage other writers to do. I’m sure the scientists who write for Arizona Wildlife Views magazine think it’s a crazy suggestion, something I picked up at editor school, a suggestion nobody would be stupid enough to act on.

But it works. When I read a piece aloud, I find the gaps in my punctuation that need to be filled with commas, and the places where too many punctuation cues are stifling my voice. I hear unintended word repetitions my eyes have stopped seeing. I get a sense of whether the piece sounds natural and unforced, or sloppy, or stuffy. This is all so much easier to notice when I’m hearing the words.

Hey, writers: Listen to your editor. Read your work out loud.

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5 thoughts on “When In Doubt, Read it Out (Loud)

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  1. “Then I left it alone for a day. It’s a little-known fact that words need to sit in a quiet, dark place, such as a sleeping hard drive or a closed journal, in order to achieve their full essence.”

    Definitely true. And also, I swear by reading my work out loud. Catch all the mistakes this way!

  2. Kyrsten, you make a good point about catching mistakes! I didn’t say it in my post, but reading aloud also showed me a couple grammatical square pegs that needed to be smoothed for a better fit into their round holes.

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