Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The importance of reading out loud.

Ah yes, reading your own work out loud. If there's someone else around (even a spouse), it makes you feel a little silly, doesn't it? But pretty much every published author who writes a book on writing mentions doing this. What's the deal?

Well, picture this: you get your book published, you do a reading of your book, and yet you can't say it properly. Turns out that some of your lines are real tongue twisters, and some others leave you gasping for breath before you ever hit a comma or the end. Not to mention the lines that you find yourself consistently misreading because the phrasing is just slightly off from what's comfortable.

Or, in this day and age, perhaps it's the poor voice actors who are trying to do your audio book that are having all the trouble. You don't want these people to have to edit your writing in order to make it speakable, so you need to do that editing on your own first. But I'm really getting way ahead of myself--the above situations would never happen until you're already published.

And, fact is, if you don't read your work out loud to yourself at least once, you're probably hurting your chances of getting published. The reason is simple: our brains often work on heuristics, little mental shortcuts that let us skip the tedious stuff. Unfortunately, one of those heuristics is to not read very carefully when we're just mentally scanning something we're already intimately familiar with. Too often we see what we expect to see, and not what's actually there. But problems arise when a reader who has no preconceived expectations comes to your work--they see what's actually there.

If what's actually there isn't what you meant, then that's trouble. You need a trick to make yourself bypass all those heuristics and expectations. Most writers agree: that trick is reading out loud. It'll make you see all sorts of things that you never would have noticed otherwise. This is what I've been doing for the last three days with my revisions, and it's been a world of help. I feel so drastically much more confident about my material now, and a large part of that is because it has now successfully passed the (first) reading-out-loud test. I specifically note that this was the first test because before any reader but my wife sees the full ms, I'll have read this entire thing out loud at least two times.

If you aren't self conscious about it, the reading out loud is actually kind of fun. I feel like an actor rehearsing my lines. Sometimes I wind up saying the same line five or six (or even more) times, making little tweaks to it until it's exactly right. It's also nice to hit a section where few or no changes need to be made, where I can just enjoy the sound of my prose. If this sort of reading makes you nervous, hopefully you can overcome that reaction and eventually take some pleasure in it--at least in private. Trust me, you won't regret it.

In other news, I've now finished my current round of revisions for my partial of ALDEN RIDGE. Tomorrow I'll be able to get back to the actual business of writing new content--yahoo!

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