Friday, February 28, 2020

Reading Your Writing Aloud--How It Gives You the Necessary Distance for Revision

Revising a book requires distance.  Ideally, the writer has to detach enough from the emotional content of the writing, or the love of her characters, to "hear" the story as a reader would.  

Revising without this distance usually means we repeat ourselves.  We run the same track over and over.  

Maybe words get tweaked.  But  the overall sense of the story doesn't change that much.

I needed to revise a new chapter to send my writing partner this week.  I tweaked words, I adjusted sentences, but I could tell I was running that familiar track of what I already knew.  Something wasn't singing yet.  I also (sheepishly) knew there were scenes not holding their weight, which I kept because I liked them.  My chapter, after all, right?

Sometimes I think the main difference between published writers and those who are new to the craft is that publishing brings startling awareness of inadequacies.  It's hard to buy the perfect draft anymore--so I revise until my fingers bleed.  

But like so many writers, I also forget the beginner's tools that served me so well when I was just starting out.  One of those is reading aloud.

I closeted myself in my writing room, printed the chapter, and began reading aloud.  I kept a pen in hand (a highlighter, actually) to note wherever the pacing faltered or something needed to be deleted or expanded.  It wasn't a long chapter, maybe 3000-4000 words.  It took me about 45 minutes, and when I was done, I had a list of changes to make.  

Developing your "ear" as a writer is one of the benefits of reading aloud.  You begin to hear the pacing, the places you summarize too much, the repetitions.  It's not rocket science, just a great, everyday technique.  And your writing exercise for this week, if you'd like to try it (again or anew).

Requirements are:

1.  Place you won't be disturbed.
2.  A voice (you have to actually read aloud, not just in your head--it makes a huge difference).
3.  Printed material and a pen, if you like that method, or your computer and a notepad to make notes.
4.  Time to read completely through, without stopping--as a reader would ideally do.

And if you're still not convinced that this is worth it, here are some encouraging articles to browse on the art of reading one's writing aloud.  (If the links don't work, google the source and search for "reading aloud" on their site.)

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