Reading out loud for a final edit

The kids are all back at school, Marc is out of town, and I have reserved this week to do a final edit of my manuscript.

“But how do you do that?” my son asked me last night at dinner.

Behold the new "Red Pen"

Behold the new “Red Pen”

“Well,” I told him, “I start on page one and I begin to read the entire thing out loud.”

And then, I explained, I look for areas where there are continuity breaks. For example when I was working on a chapter yesterday I noticed that I had written about “taking Motrin *again*” and yet I hadn’t mentioned any previous times that we had taken it. Oops – I went back and added that first instance.

Gone are the days of using a red pen, now I read out loud from the screen to find words that have been dropped and spellings that made it through spell check but were the wrong word. (Form instead of from.) All edits are done using my computer.

If I come across a passage that is particularly clunky and I can’t think of how to fix it, I highlight it to remind me to come back to it and I move on.

Quotation marks that weren’t added because they are a pain in the neck when you are brain dumping your story need to be added to dialogue.

When you read out loud, you “hear” the areas where your voice might have changed. Where you (I) might have added a snarky bit that doesn’t add anything to the story – out it comes.

When I read out loud, I also hear where I might have gone a little too light on descriptions. I stop to recall what it was I saw and felt and I add in those details.

I also hear some of the repetition that I didn’t seem to catch when I wrote the piece. When spoken, those words jump out front and center.

Reading out loud isn’t for everyone, it’s a slow process and I have to have absolute silence which is why this week is so good to do it – Please don’t interrupt me when I’m deep in my story.

But for me, it’s the best method for a review.

How about you? How do you do a final edit?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

47 thoughts on “Reading out loud for a final edit

  1. I always always ALWAYS read out loud, and tell my students to do the same–not that they do, but at least it’s a good idea. I, too, feel it’s the best way to find where the voice shifts, where grammar trips, and some other word with a short *i* sound to make a list of completeness. 🙂 My kids are still at home all day, though, so I usually have to make these read-alouds at 4:30am. Still worth it.

    • I also tell my students to read out loud (although I’m sure very few actually do.) When I mentioned this to my son last night he said “that’s what I do with my emails before I send them.”

      Smart lad.

      Wendy

    • If it works for you, then go with it.

      I don’t have the time anymore to hand-write. I have to write directly onto the screen (and besides now that I am a woman of a certain age, I find my fingers cramp quickly.)

      Wendy

  2. Nice! I am a huge advocate of reading work out loud. It really brings attention to so many nuanced elements. My final edits are usually reading the whole work with a notebook nearby so I can make notes if elements are missing (like a character or event gets mentioned, but should have been mentioned before) and then make other notes in-text. I have to work from a physically printed manuscript, though. It helps me detach from the fact that it’s something I wrote.

    • I used to have to work from a hard copy but time constraints have made me write and edit onscreen.

      I still take notes in my (many) notebooks.

      Sometimes I wonder if I’ve lost something by being so reliant on a computer.

      Wendy

  3. I do read aloud but I do it to my husband who follows along with the computer version in front of him. I frequently change as I read aloud to make it sound better, flow better, etc. I don’t realize I have done so but the hubs catches it and I fix it. My final edit however is a sentence by sentence backward read, specifically to break the flow and catch all the little spelling, grammar, etc mistakes.

  4. Oh yes indeed, I’m happy to join the chorus for reading out loud. I do it and I agree it truly helps in so many ways. Essentially what got me to reading my draft was dialogue. I found that by reading out loud was the only way to check the flow of dialogue the “realness” of it, the sound of it.

    Great post!

  5. It’s always a great idea to read out loud. It’s the way I’ve been editing my posts. Quite amazing the way the mind fools you when you’re in flow and everything just does not get typed. Haha.. love this advice. Thanks 😁😊

  6. Reading out loud to my wife has always been a great way to work on a final draft. i catch places where I had the wrong word, or missed phrases. I haven’t written anything long enough to have continuity errors yet, but one day I hope to catch those too!

  7. I always read my writing aloud — at every stage of editing. It’s amazing what you pick up when you read aloud. However, one thing I do during final edits, and only during final edits, is the backwards edit.
    Read your work from the last sentence backwards to the first sentence. It requires a lot of scanning for that next sentence so you can look at that sentence in isolation, but this backwards approach forces you to look at the words and grammar only. Elements of story are removed from the editorial process. This technique is designed for copy-editing, focussing entirely on punctuation, grammar and sentence construction. It’s incredibly slow, but it works.

    • I know a lot of people edit by reading backward but it’s never resonated with me.

      Here’s a clear example of “take what works with you and run with it.”

      Wendy

      • Totally agree. An editor friend of mine hates reading out of context. The backwards edit drives her batty. As for myself, I only ever use it during final stage edits. At all other times, I need context too.

  8. I don’t write books, but I always write my blog posts on sheets and then type them into the the computer. It really helps me because I can think of better wording, or maybe I want to add something, and I really have to work through the whole piece again, and not just read it, where errors are far more likely to happen.

    • Many, many years ago, that’s how I was taught to write as a journalist. Get it down on paper and then literally cut and paste the paragraphs into order and then retype. I simply don’t have time to do that anymore.

      With tons (and tons) of practice, I’ve learned to write and edit through my word processor.

      I still carry a notebook everywhere to capture ideas and notes.

      Wendy

  9. This is a great post. As I am still fairly new to writing, you give some great editing tips for begginers like me. I have been notoriously guilty of editing as I write, which is extremely time consuming and draining to my creative energy. Recently, I’ve learned better; I now wait until the first draft is completed before going back in to correct.

  10. I’ll have to try this. A lot of work has gone into my current novel and because it covers four generations I am not sure about the links from one to another. I felt I should have some one to read it through. I will try what you have recommended here. Perhaps I will indeed hear and be able to edit as I go. Thanks.

    • After I read out loud and do my edit, it will get passed to a trusted friend who will then read it. I absolutely trust her to make comments and catch mistakes that, even with reading out loud, I missed.

      Wendy

  11. Great post. Our group read out loud to each other as well as to ourselves in the final editing stage. I have tried reading backwards but forget to do it for everything I write. I can’t read out loud from the screen. I have to use a printed copy. The main thing one finds is where contractions are needed ( You find yourself turning the written ‘I will’ into ‘I’ll.’) I have just had to read a play out loud to myself to time it.All good fun.

    • I’ve tried reading to a group (for editing purposes) and it just doesn’t work for me.

      The only ones who get to hear me edit-read are my two trusted dogs who love everything I do.

      Wendy

  12. I have used the “read out loud” method and it works, and have read out loud to my long suffering husband. I just heard about how to have your computer “talk” the story for you. I am going to try it to see how it works. I want to put the first chapter of my new Sexy Sci/Fi on my blog which will show on FB and Twitter. But want no spelling or grammar errors. People love to point them out!

  13. When I want to do a final edit on a blog post, I do it by posting the article and read it again from there. Somehow I can see clearly what has to be done when it is really out there, published. Then I continue editing my work for a week, reading it again and again. After that they are on their own. When editing a book I always give it to my editing buddy and ask for feedback, then I read it once again and if I’m happy I let go.

  14. I’ve used the “read it out loud” method and find that it works well for me. Maybe reading out loud uses different parts of the brain than reading silently, but I find that catching errors or clumsy passages is more effective than when reading silently when such things can be glided over all too easily.

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