Say It Loud . . . Or at Least, ALOUD
It’s the golden writing advice no one ever told me. Not in high school. Not during studies for my English degree. And not at any writing conference, either.
When my son was in sixth grade, he had a paper to write for school. He drafted it, revised it, read it over several times, tweaked it again. Then he printed it out.
I lifted the pages from the printer feed and handed them to him. “Now go read your paper out loud to yourself.”
He gave me a confused look. “Uh, why?”
“Because you’ll catch things you didn’t on the computer screen.”
He very nearly rolled his eyes. (I say very nearly because he wasn’t quite a teenager yet. Like all teens, he became an eye-rolling pro later.)
“I read it like ten times before I printed it,” he insisted. “It’s just the way I want it.” He also pointed out that Word hadn’t marked anything with the dreaded red squiggle. (As if that means anything.)
Shoving the pages into his chest, I said, “Humor me.”
I almost reminded him that I’d been writing since before I met his father. That my fifth novel was about to be published, that I’d sold dozens of articles, won numerous writing awards, and that I was a professional editor.
But I didn’t; the reminders wouldn’t have done any good. To him, I was just Mom, while he was almost twelve, the ripe old age of wisdom.
Once again, I insisted he read it aloud — in his bedroom, door closed, if he preferred.
After an exaggerated sigh, he obeyed.
You can probably guess what happened. To his surprise — but not mine — he came out of his room with about ten things he wanted to change in that two-page paper.
Some were clunky phrasing he’d stumbled over when speaking a sentence that had looked nice and smooth on the screen.
Others were typos that his eye had skimmed right over on the computer screen but now jumped out on hard copy.
(Word doesn’t catch the dreaded spellcheck-proof typo.)
Still others were stylistic things he hadn’t noticed until he saw the words in a different way: on the page.
As a professional writer, I’d learned the magic of reading aloud with my own work. The first time was after joining a critique group, where we read our work aloud around the table each week.
Why Reading from Paper Matters
No matter how careful you are reading your piece on a screen, that’s almost certainly not enough to catch every error, typo, or awkward section.
There’s something powerful about printing your words onto paper and then reading them directly from the page.
That’s true even if you don’t read the work aloud. I can guarantee that paper will show your typos, redundancies, usage errors, and more — things your eyes and mind simply will not catch on the screen.
Reading ALOUD from Paper Is Even More Powerful
When you hear yourself saying the words, trying them out on your lips and tongue, you engage multiple senses.
No longer are you just seeing the words (or not fully seeing them, as the case often is), but you’re also feeling the paper, hearing your voice, sensing the flow of the words in your mouth, or feeling your tongue and lips stumble over them like an old truck hitting potholes.
Fortunately, my son and his younger sisters gradually (and, at times, grudgingly) learned to trust me when I gave them writing advice. Today, three of my four are in college (the youngest is still in high school), and all four are excellent writers.
As for my son, he has a job developing an online curriculum. He writes all day.
(Yeah, you’re welcome, kids.)
Just Do It
Read aloud your manuscript with a writing group if you like. At least print off a chapter now and again and then read your work from the page. Do it both silently and aloud.
If it helps, close the door so no teenagers will witness and then mock your latest weirdness.
But if your friends and family are like mine, no one will bat an eye. They already know you’re not normal.
After all, you’re a writer.