One of the most productive and, in my opinion, essential steps in proofing your work is to read it out loud. I have often finished a manuscript, read it over a hundred times, paid to have it edited, received feedback from my writers’ groups and beta readers, and finally allowed myself to relax, convinced it was as perfectly polished as I was capable of making it.
Then I’ll launch into the final stage before sending it off to an editor, agent or contest: reading it out loud. Inevitably—and by that I mean every single time without exception—something catches my attention as I’m reading. I’ll have either used the same word three times in a sentence, or changed something somewhere along the line and now the tenses don’t match up, or a sentence is so long I’m practically hyperventilating by the time I reach the end of it. These are all things that I and a stream of other people, while reading the words on a screen, will have failed to catch.
There’s something about hearing the words in your ears. The process is comparable, obviously, to that of converting a solid to a liquid. Reading your work out loud applies pressure (or heat) to your manuscript. During this stage, all that is solid or clunky in your work is melted down so that the words and the story can now flow smoothly. The dross (in this case, unnecessary words, awkward phrasing, repetition, lack of proper punctuation etc.) that rises to the top as you read can now be scooped off in order to de-contaminate the final product. What’s left at this point should be pure gold (which, unfortunately, is often where the analogy falls apart. Assuming it hadn’t, in your mind, a while ago.).
And don’t worry about your loved ones coming in and finding you mumbling away to yourself, confirming their long-held suspicions that you are a few sandwiches short of a picnic. You’re a writer. They were bound to find that out sooner or later.
If you do feel strongly about maintaining the illusion of sanity, I recommend purchasing and wearing a Bluetooth at all times. That way you can talk away to no one, even gesture wildly, while walking down a busy sidewalk, and no one will give you a second glance.
Frankly, once your family faces the truth, life becomes a lot easier. Perpetuating the stereotype that, as a creative spirit, you live in a beautiful world of your own making somewhere inside your head, relieves you of the pressure to pretend that you are capable of performing the household tasks a normal person would. Much like Vincent Van Gogh “creatively expressing himself” by cutting off his own ear, I’m able to get away, startlingly often, with serving bowls of cereal or grilled cheese sandwiches or Kraft Dinner for supper, and dusting the house once or twice a year, if that. I’m quite sure my poor husband clings to the hope, as he piles up enough books and papers to clear a place-mat-sized space at the table for him to eat, that all of this will one day be nothing more than an interesting—and hopefully humorous—footnote in the story of my journey to J.K. Rowling-esque fame and fortune.
So read away. Preferably loudly and with expression. The best example of this I ever saw was a guy in one of my writer’s groups who was incapable of reading his work while sitting down. He would pace, wave his arms, change voices, and generally put on a performance worthy of the Stratford stage as he presented his writing. I know we were entertained, and I’m sure he derived great pleasure from the exercise as well.
If you still suffer from pangs of self-consciousness, feel free to go out and buy a cat so you can assure everyone who walks in on you that you weren’t actually talking to yourself at all. If they are as kind and long-suffering as my family, they may even pretend to believe it.
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Website: Choose to Press On
Facebook: Author Sara Davison