As my regular readers know, I’m entering the editing stage of work on my novel. It’s an exciting place to be at first, but no doubt the excitement will soon wear off and I’ll find myself in the editing doldrums. One way to fight the editing blahs, though, is to keep shaking up the way I edit. Sometimes I print out chapters and sometimes I don’t; sometimes I rewrite portions by hand, and sometimes I tinker with cut and paste on the computer screen. Another editing weapon I’ve added to my arsenal is the magic of hearing my own words read out loud.
If you read aloud your own work, a number of tricky elements of editing instantly become clear. The rhythm of an awkward sentence, which you were letting slide on the page, now sounds intolerable. An odd choice of words becomes strange and clunky in your ears. It’s the ultimate test for scenes of great emotion, or particularly, sex scenes — an awkward one just becomes silly when read aloud, but a successful one will survive being heard. As I begin the editing process, I’ll be reading aloud as much as I can, with a pen in hand so that I can pause and mark any places that just aren’t cutting it.
There’s another element of hearing your own words that can be helpful: I’m also having a friend read my work aloud to me. That way I’m not distracted by the actual performance of reading; I can listen like an impartial observer. I also can hear where it’s not clear to the non-writer how I meant to emphasize things. Because I’m the writer, when I’m reading I know when to focus on one part of the sentence; when a newcomer reads to me, the reader only gets the clues that are on the page. It can really make clear what’s on the page and what’s only in my mind.
So maybe you’ve already heard that it’s a good idea to read your work aloud; but I bet you haven’t heard before that it’s a good idea to have your work read TO you. Find a friend who isn’t a writing expert and listen to your work; you’ll find yourself hearing all sorts of problems that you wouldn’t have found otherwise.