Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reading Out Loud

I've been a bit quiet on my blog here because I've been loud otherwise: I've been using every free minute I have alone to myself to read my book manuscript out loud, following a tip from Sandra Beasley. When one of my students asked her how she managed to keep her memoir Don't Kill the Birthday Girl engaging even though she had to convey a lot of research, she said that she read it out loud. "You find the boring parts that way," she said.

Being a poet, reading her words out loud comes natural to her. For me, it's a bit odd, especially because I have to wait until I am home alone, or at least until only my husband is at home and in his office at the other end of the apartment. Jabbering out loud to myself would be too weird otherwise.

Sandra is right, however. You do find the boring parts when you read out loud. You immediately realize where the narrative is dragging because reading out loud requires a different kind of effort. Thankfully, I have not found too many passages that ended up on the chopping block. Reading an entire manuscript out loud is a chore but it's also helping me see it as a whole, which is a special challenge with a longer manuscript.

I've read out loud to myself before, whenever I had to prepare for a reading, but those were all short pieces. In fact, my main goal then was to time myself, and figure out where I could cut to stay within the time limit, and having the family as a practice audience was beneficial. When you read a short piece out loud, over and over again, you find that you better be in love with your words, or you won't want to do it, and if you don't want to read it, how can you expect a reader to get into it? It only makes sense that the same logic applies to a longer piece.


  1. Whenever I'm questioning a part of my manuscript, I read it aloud. It's true that you can hear what's wrong with it. It's a great method of revising.

  2. Hmm, that's a good idea. I've read small chunks out loud, but never the entire book all together. I'll have to try that when I finish the first draft I'm working on now.

  3. Jabbering out loud to yourself is part of being a writer! It's practically required. I say everything I write out loud. Maybe it is a poet thing, though.

  4. Annette, very good advice. I find talking to the computer while writing also helps, especially with dialogue. I use Dragon Naturally speaking. But ultimately at the end of the day, reading the entire manuscript out loud is great.

  5. I used this technique when I had to cut 500 words from a short story in order to meet a submission guideline of 1500 maximum word count. That's a quarter of what I had (2000 words). It was hard because the story was as polished as I thought it could be. When I read it out loud, I was shocked at the things I found to cut and not lose the story.

    Great post, Annette!

  6. Wow this is a great piece of advice!!! I really need to try this.

  7. I've done this for a long time, not with everything I write, but often enough. Besides finding those 'boring' parts, you realize if a sentence is too long, the repetitiveness jumps out at you, and many other little things you don't see when only reading. An excellent suggestion for all the things we write.

  8. When I took journalism in school this was a technique we were taught to use before any story went to print. That and reading it backwards for typos that are harder to spot. It's a great technique to help you get out of your own head when you are reading silently.

  9. I always read aloud. I wish more authors would practice it, though. In undergraduate school I took an interpretive literature class for a speech credit. Ever since that I cringe when I hear writers read with so little enthusiasm or interpretive style. They seem only to read the words, never try to bring the meaning to life. We are storytellers. We should tell our own stories as if we were the storytellers of a pre-literate culture.

  10. I think the read aloud is very valuable--great tip!!!

  11. @Natalie, I teach journalism now, and I indeed coach my students to read their work aloud. It's an in-your-face kind of way to see what's wrong and what's not with your prose.

    I had what I like to call a writing binge today of my own work. I write, write, write. I breathe. I pause. Then after letting the work sit, I give it the sure-fire test. How does it sound when I read it aloud?

    Grub Street in Boston teaches this technique constantly in a way. It always hosts open mikes for each semester's worth of writing students.

    Great advice, Annette.

  12. Kelly - you're the one with the voice recorder so it follows you'd be reading out loud to yourself. Great practice, for sure!

    Emma - yes, you'll have to do that although I must warn you, reading a whole manuscript out loud is exhausting. But it is worthwhile.

    Emily M. - now why am I not surprised to hear that about you?

    Nancy J - interesting idea to use Dragon Naturally Speaking. My son has the software, so I could try it but I'm not that comfortable talking to myself yet.

    Diane - it is indeed a great tool to help you cut.

    Anjuli - you MUST try it. You'll see it's a great tool.

    Nancy - exactly: when a sentence gets too long for me to read out loud, it needs chopping up!

    Natalie - yes, and stumbling over your own convoluted sentences is an eye opener!

    Julie - reading for an audience is a separate skill, and not all writers have it. Have you ever heard Frank McCourt read? He's one of the rare writers who's also a performer at heart. Listening to his memoirs as an audio book is one of the few exceptions where the audio book is better than the print book.

    Coleen - thanks!

    Linda - yep, I know, it's age-old advice and yet one needs to hear it over and over again to remember to do it.