Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Read Your Work Out Loud

victrola dog artYou have probably heard this advice before. It isn’t new. It isn’t rocket science.

But, do you actually read your work out loud?

Experts across all genres recommend reading your work out loud as part of your editing process. There’s something about hearing a piece spoken out loud that makes it easy to spot weak spots. I use this technique on everything from blog posts to essays to short stories to business correspondence. I’m never sorry I did it.

Jane Friedman wrote on the Writer’s Digest blog about how reading her work out loud helped her reveal filler, expose boring descriptions, and hone her voice. Joanna Penn produced a video about how reading her novel Pentecost out loud (start to finish) helped her improve consistency, dialog, pacing, and also spot typos. In an interview with Fast Company, David Sedaris said, “I used to hate it when a book came out or a story was published and I would be like ‘damn, how did I not catch that?’ But you pretty much always catch it when you’re reading out loud.” In addition to reading his pieces out loud to himself, Sedaris also vets new book material by reading out loud to an audience.

Do a quick Google search, and you’ll find plenty more writers and teachers who strongly recommend reading your work out loud as part of your editing process.

So, do it. You’ll be amazed.

And, if you feel silly, try reading to your dog, cat, or teddy bear. I do that all the time. It helps, and they seem to like it. Even the teddy bear.

 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
.

Photo Credit: -Jeffrey- via Compfight cc

70 thoughts on “Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Read Your Work Out Loud

  1. I’m gonna a be honest…I’ve never heard this advice given to writers before. BUT, I’ve actually been doing it for ages. I love to read my dialog out loud to determine whether it sounds like something someone would actually say, and it definitely helps a lot!

    • Really?!? Never? I love that this is the first time you’ve heard it. 🙂

      And, you obviously have good instincts if you’re doing this already. You’re right that it’s especially helpful for making sure your dialog is authentic. That’s something I struggle with, so being able to almost act out dialog passages is hugely helpful.

  2. I’ve heard and given this piece of advice quite a few times, and I agree: It’s a good one. I always read the most important scenes out loud and everything if I have the time (for my weekly serial novel). My only problem isn’t really a problem … It’s that I end up changing my accent for each character when I get to the dialogue. 😄

    • I’m so envious you can do accents! I’ve never been any good at accents or dialects, but I love listening to audio books where the narrator can leap effortlessly from one accent to another and one voice to another. It’s amazing. Thank goodness that my cats aren’t critiquing me on that level of performance!

  3. Great advice–I’ve been doing this, except when I’m hurried and harried, since I wrote papers back in college during the dark ages (1980s). When I skip it, I am invariably disappointed by my errors.

    • Ooh – sounds like we survived the same dark ages.

      Totally agree – when I skip the reading out loud, I always regret it. Takes a little extra time, but SO worth it.

      PS – Love your About page re: “cookies,” and Tunesday, and CAKE. 🙂

    • So interesting to hear how many writers do this as a matter of course for poetry, but not so much for prose. Glad you’re finding it helpful on all fronts.

      Now I feel like writing a poem…
      😉

  4. I attend a monthly poetry open mic event where I read one of my works in progress. It’s amazing what you find you can improve by reading a piece like that.

    • Combining the written and spoken word is powerful – both for the writer and the reader/listener. Awesome, Andrew.

    • Exactly. And, often, all it takes to fix the error is to hear it out loud.

      Pretty easy, right?
      😉

      TKS for the comment.

  5. It’s funny because I’d been writing for a long time and I just got used to reading stuff aloud just so I could hear my character’s voice, you know their attitude, and how they were feeling about whatever they were saying, pretending I was the voice over to my own movie. And it wasn’t until I took a playwriting course that the professor said you guys should be reading your stuff aloud before turning it in, it’s the best way to write your dialogue. I felt pretty proud of myself … For once I was ahead of the game.

    • Isn’t that a nice feeling – being ahead of the game? You obviously have good instincts. 😉

      TKS!

  6. Great advice. I live by this advice! That’s one of the main reasons I can’t sit at a café and write.
    So when I’m writing (not brainstorming for ideas), I need to be alone and in a private space so I have the oportunity to read my writings out loud so I don’t look like a completely idiot to the public eye.

    • That would be pretty funny if a bunch of writers were working in a cafe, and reading their stuff out loud simultaneously. People WOULD think they were crazy! 😉

  7. Something cool that I discovered is the Read Aloud function on Adobe Reader. If you open your file in PDF and go under View menu, at the very bottom is read aloud (version XI). Just click activate and then click the areas you want Adobe to read.

    This has helped me catch stuff that sounds ridiculous but I can’t catch the mistake when I’m reading because I’m too close to the information. It sounds computerized when it’s read aloud but at least your jaws won’t be tired when you finish.

    • That’s SO cool! I had no idea that existed. I just tried it out on a client’s PDF, and was actually pretty impressed with the accuracy and inflection of the reading. Handy tool. TKS for the tip!

  8. I have a habit of doing this already for dialogue, particularly if the character for whom I’m speaking has a fun accent. I’ll have to try reading the whole book and seeing how my stuffed animals like it ^_^

  9. This is awesome advice! I always feel silly practicing speeches out loud, so I practice while I blow dry my hair. I’ll have to try that with short stories now too!

    • That’s a great idea – practicing with the noise of the blowdryer to drown you out. Love the multi-tasking element!

  10. Yes, a million times yes. My wife is my unfortunate victim for this, but I think she secretly enjoys most of it. So many times, I’ll be reading and have to stop to fix an awkward sentence, or I’ll discover some glaring plot hole or lack of logic that I missed while typing out what I felt certain would be a masterpiece.

  11. Great idea! Sometimes, while reading to my wife I get the feeling that I’m reading to my dog, cat, teddy bear, wall, toilet, etc.

  12. I always read my work out loud, usually just to myself. Once in a great while I’ll read it out loud to someone else but that’s rare. One thought I’ve had when reading aloud to myself: I know what my intent is and what I’m inferring, trying to show…..is it clear to a new reader? I try keeping that in mind. Thanks for the tip!

    • That’s an excellent point about whether a “fresh” reader will understand what you’re trying to convey even if they don’t have the benefit of your inside knowledge. I mostly use reading out loud to catch spots where the wording is awkward, the punctuation if off, segues aren’t working (or, are missing), dialog sounds jilted, etc. For more thematic questions, I’d rely on beta readers who will give over-arching feedback on what they get out of a piece.

      Thanks for stopping by & sharing. Great question. 🙂

  13. Thanks for the advice, I will do that when I edit my book.
    Do you think I should do it after my Second Draft of my book or should I do it in my First Draft?

    • I read my work aloud when it’s a work in progress … bits at a time to kind of “test it out,” but your approach may be different. I’d experiment and see where reading out loud seems to fit in your workflow.

      Good luck!

  14. Yes! Love this. Even when I’m reading other author’s books aloud, I’m quick to pick up on weak spots, so obviously it will work with my own stuff. Thanks for the reminder. I need to start doing this again.

    • Great point about using this on other writers’ work. I read out loud to my daughter at bedtime, and I’ve had similar experiences – stumbling over an awkwardly worded sentence, or having to re-read a confusing passage.

      Thanks for that perspective! 🙂

  15. Reblogged this on Getting Lit Fit and commented:
    This is something we used to advocate for all the time when I worked as a writing tutor in college. I find it especially helpful when I hear someone else read my work aloud to me. Awkward, yes, but very illuminating.

  16. This is absolutely essential. I always read my work aloud during different stages of my writing. I also have one of my nieces read it aloud and see how it sounds when a young person reads it. You would not believe how helpful it is to be able to see places where kids stumble on things. (I write for children.) if you know someone willing to tape themselves reading your book, this can be a huge help.

    • What a fabulous idea to have a kid read your work. I love that!
      Thanks for the additional tip. Definitely a good one.
      🙂

  17. Admittedly not a bad idea. But I’m more inclined to use a text-to-speech app with headphones? Can you think of any disadvantages with this method? The Android text-to-speech that Google Maps navigation uses on my phone seems pretty good but I haven’t rigged it to read my words yet. Might add this little project to my list and see how it goes.

  18. Pingback: Does your group speak truth? | jean's writing

  19. Pingback: Your Favorite 2015 “Weekend Edition” and “Short and Sweet” Writing Posts | Live to Write – Write to Live

  20. Good advice, but I have trouble fixing what doesn’t sound right. I find myself trying to identify the problem and struggling to solve it. One thing I wind up doing is add to many words to a sentence I don’t like, which I’ve learned is a bad habit also. So I’m stuck, you got a shovel?

    • Also I hate when I spell a word wrong in a comment and can’t fix it! I’m new to this site and have not figured out how to edit my comment hahaha, I suppose it’s not important for a comment, I just type too fast. 🙂

      • I haven’t got a shovel. Sorry about that! 😉
        I’ve found that the more you read (as in, other people’s work) and the more you read your own work out loud, the more easily you’ll start to develop an “ear” and have the “vocabulary” (and I don’t use that word in the strictly conventional sense, but more in the sense of a writing “toolbox”) to make adjustments when something sounds off to you.

        As for spelling words wrong in comments – we’ve all been there and done that. Totally forgivable. 🙂

  21. Yay, It seems I have more excuses to read, which doesn’t bother me at all. 😉 Also reading aloud is something I will muster up the courage to do, whatever helps I will do it. Thank you very much.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s