Writing Tip: Read This Out Loud

By Angela Shafer

In my experience as a writer, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way. Many were helpful hints from college professors, others came from my own experience. I think this one is one of the best, and, oddly enough, seemingly overlooked tips.

Editing is a bore. It’s a pain. It’s far too easy to gloss over what we’ve written (it’s not like we don’t know the ending) without really taking it in. How many novels and other works have you, dear reader, come across with wonky sentence phrasings and obvious wrong words? If they’d taken this first tip, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened.

Here’s the Tip:
Read what you’ve written out loud. I stress ‘out loud’. Reading it silently, even if you think you’re getting every word in, doesn’t work because your brain knows what you’ve written and it’s very easy for what was intended to magically show up on the page. But if you read it out loud, you have to pay attention to every word, every phrasing.

It’s like when you know, in your brain, what you intend to say, but when it comes out of your mouth, it doesn’t make sense. Have you ever said something, then said, ‘wait, that made sense in my head?’ That’s the point. Reading to yourself doesn’t work. You have to read it out loud, every word. You’ll probably be amazed at what you catch.

Another thing. Forget you have spell check, at least as a crutch. When I’ve offered this read-out-loud tip to writers, some have said, “I have spell check, so that’ll catch anything that needs to be fixed.”

Here’s an idea. Run this sentence through spell check:
I enjoy talking rides in the country.

Do you think spell check would catch anything in that sentence? No, because ‘talking’ was spelled correctly, though it made no sense in this sentence. Spell check only looks for misspelled words, not wrong words in context or wonky-worded sentences.

Here’s another angle on this tip: Read your work out loud, from end to beginning. You really have to concentrate on every word then. Start with the last word and work to the first, saying every word out loud. That’s a great way to catch things that might go unnoticed even if you read it out loud from beginning to end. Of course it won’t make perfect sense, but, by having to pay closer attention, you’ll probably get through a sentence and say ‘wait a minute,’ then read it beginning to end and realize there was a reason it made even less sense than it does reading it end to beginning.

If you’re a reader, settled in with a novel, and you read a sentence that makes no sense, though the words are spelled correctly, I’ll be honest, that’s not good. A story should free your imagination without making you stop to make sense of a wrong word or incoherent sentence. Take the time, as the writer, to catch-all the uh-ohs so your readers can cozy up and be taken to the world you’ve created.

It’s not just about concern for your readers, it’s about your own name and integrity as a writer. Your best advertisement is your work, so put the best work out there you can. Not everyone is the next great writer, but we can all at least pay attention to the details that can be fixed. Writing is something that requires passion. It asks no less than our body, mind, and spirit, so we, as writers, should care about what we put out there for others to read. A simple something like reading the work out loud might sound ridiculous, but when you start finding errors that would have been missed, it’s worth it. After that, you can still run spell check to make sure words you thought were spelled correctly actually are.

I write fiction under the pen name Willow D’Sabine. I’m the author of the Covenant Series, the story of Eliza Beck, who never really fit in with her ancestral Werewolf pack, but only when she was hunted by them did she realize she was actually what they hated most…a Vampire.

Please visit my site for the Covenant Series at http://covenantseries.blogspot.com.
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