Proofreading your own manuscript can be a daunting task, and yet it’s something all of us writers have to do at some point. We’ve all had that feeling of accomplishment after we’ve gotten through our book three, four, five times… and surely, we believe, it must be close to perfection—at least in terms of the absence of typos.
We’ve also probably all that feeling where we later flip to a random page and find a glaring error looking back at us. A glaring error that no doubt our eyes glossed right over every time we read that manuscript over, start to finish, squinting carefully—or so we thought—at every jot and tittle.
And, oh look, there’s a missed period at the end of that paragraph…
And, oh look, we missed a whole word in the first sentence of Chapter Five…
And, oh look, we accidentally used the word “look” twice really close together… and look, we accidentally used it a third time…
These sorts of mistakes are inevitable, especially when it comes to your own work. When you’re really familiar with a certain piece of writing, it can be surprisingly hard to spot errors that may seem obvious in retrospect. Your brain tends to fill in the gaps, allowing your eye to skip right over that missing period or missing word.
By the way, editors can help with this.
But today’s blog post isn’t about the importance of hiring a third-party editor or proofreader to work on your book after you’re done with it. Although that’s very good advice, and I would strongly recommend that you do exactly that!
Rather, today I want to talk about an editing tool at your disposal that you may never have even known you had. If you, like most writers, use the ubiquitous Microsoft Word as your go-to word processor, there’s an interesting feature that allows the program to read back your writing out loud, using one of Microsoft’s synthesized computer voices.
It’s like a poor man’s audiobook. You can press play, close your eyes, and listen as your story unspools before you. The voices may be bland and robotic, and they’re not there for your entertainment. In fact, the last thing you want to be is entertained. If you’re entertained, you’re probably unnecessarily distracted.
So why is this helpful? Well, your eyes may skip over that missed word at the beginning of Chapter Five, but when you hear the story read out loud, it’s going to be impossible to miss. Your eyes will flare open in surprise. And although your eyes may not catch the fact that you used the word “look” three times in a single sentence, your ear will. If a sentence flows awkwardly, you’ll notice it right away. Do you have an unintentional rhyme that takes all the steam out of an emotional moment? Trust me, it won’t escape your attention when it’s being read back to you.
The best part of this tool is that it allows you to get valuable editing work done while you’re occupied with other things. You can be cooking dinner and listening for errors at the same time. You can be sweating it out on your elliptical. You can be out for a walk.
The simple truth is that your writing will get better when you read it aloud, whether you allow the computer to it for you or you sit down and do the reading yourself. In particular, your ear will perk to awkward or wooden dialogue you might not have noticed when you were just typing it out.
So after you’ve finished drafting your manuscript, be sure to run it through at least one full read-aloud cycle before calling it quits. You’ll be amazed, and perhaps a little embarrassed, at what you missed the first few times around.
Evan Braun is a full-time author and editor. He has authored three novels, the first of which, The Book of Creation, was shortlisted in two categories at the 2012 Word Awards. He has released two sequels, The City of Darkness (2013) and The Law of Radiance (2015), completing the series. As a professional editor, Braun has seven years of experience working with Word Alive Press authors. He is also a regular contributor at The Fictorians, a popular writing blog.