Writing Tip 10: When you think a text is ready, read it out loud to someone else

Many of these Writing Tips have been about how to get the energy and motivation to make writing a habit. I’ve had less to say on how to write well. I have some tips for that, too.

One challenge that I have in revising is that when I read my words on a screen, my mind fills in the blanks: I read what should be there and not what is there. I skip words that don’t fit, and I add words that are missing.

A trick I often use as I edit is to read the text out loud.

I am doing it right now.

I sometimes use the Text-to-Speech feature of Mac OS X: In TextEdit, select the Start Speaking option of the Speech submenu in the Edit menu.

In January, I discovered an even better way to get some distance: Read it to someone else.

Writing Tip 10: When you think a text is ready, read it out loud to someone else.

Don’t do this with an early draft, but do it with something that is almost ready. I read the first few paragraphs of Chapter 3—the chapter I’ve been working on for about three weeks—to my wife a few days ago.

Reading the words to her forced me to slow down and feel the phrases that I had written as they came out of my mouth.

As I spoke, I realized that my sentences were out of order; I heard the repetition of ideas; I stumbled over awkward phrases I hadn’t noticed; and, most important, I realized that rather than having a multi-page analytical digression early on, the Chapter would be better served by weaving the analysis directly into the various scenes.

My wife had good ideas too.

I had already revised the section three or four times. I had already read it out loud to myself. But, only when I read it to her, did I realize the whole thing was out of order.

Reading out loud isn't something to do every day, but it can be helpful on pieces that you think are close to finished.

Good writing has a rhythm that you can only feel by reading out loud.

I knew my draft of Chapter 1 was complete when I read the whole thing to my wife, and I managed to keep going without having to stop. Was it perfect? No. I heard the repetition in my descriptions and analysis as I read, yet I knew it was ready for me to move on to the next chapter.