During the editing phase of Five Parts Dead, one of the things the publisher asked me to do was to read my entire manuscript aloud.
It was good advice and it’s something that I regularly encourage students to do, too. Whether you’re writing fiction, poetry, a speech, book review or essay, it’s always worth going to a quiet room and carefully reading your work aloud. Why? Because if you stumble on an awkward sentence when reading in private, it will snag you like barbed wire when you read it in public. If someone else is reading your writing, someone less familiar with the content than you are, I guarantee they’ll find it even harder to negotiate.
Just as stand-up comedians hone their routines over and over, you need to do the same to ensure the rhythm is right, the words flow and your intended meaning is clear.
I was present at the State Library in May 2008 when Neil Gaiman read from his page proofs for the multi-award-winning The Graveyard Book. He said: “It’s always nice to read stuff in public that you haven’t read before because you find out … that sentences that looked good on the page are impossible to read aloud.”
Another reason to read your work aloud is to highlight repetition.* If you have overused a word or words, you should pick this up quickly. I know that when Game as Ned was turned into an audio book, and I heard actors reading my work for the first time, I became acutely sensitive to particular words that seemed to recur in every second sentence. I also winced at a few phrases and wished I’d polished them more.
So, read your work again. Aloud. And don’t worry about sounding like a goose, talking to yourself. If you’re going to be a writer you’re going to have to get used to the sound of your own voice.
*Here’s another handy tool for picking up repetition. Online software such as Wordle creates ‘word clouds’ that enable visual analysis of your written vocabulary. You might be surprised by words that fly under your editing radar.