Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Read It Aloud

Whether proofreading, revising, or polishing your work, you'll find it helps to read it aloud--or even shout it.

Ben Yagoda, in The Sound on the Page, tells this story:
Flaubert...would go out to an avenue of lime trees near his house and proclaim what he'd written at the top of his lungs, the better to see if the prose conformed to the ideal that was in his head.

For the same reason you may find yourself subvocalizing as you work on a particularly difficult section of your own work. And, something to keep in mind, your readers can also hear your words, whether or not they move their lips as they read.

So it's a good idea to test your text by reading it aloud or by asking someone else to read it aloud for you, one of the advantages of participating in workshops and critique groups. Another trick is to trade pages, each taking notes while the other reads.

Peter Elbow, in Writing With Power, reminds us how useful reading aloud can be in cutting out the clutter left from earlier drafts:
Look for places where you stumble or get lost in the middle of a sentence....where you get distracted or even bored....Cut through the extra words or vagueness or digression...Listen even for the tiniest jerk or stumble in your reading....for places where the words themselves seem to stop paying full attention to their own meaning.

And lastly, read each word out loud when you're proofreading. This takes concentration, because it's easy to unconsciously add the missing letters to a misspelled word or add the word you, or another writer, meant to put in. This is one time to avoid the process of co-creation that is part of the reader/writer relationship.

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