From eleven o’clock yesterday morning until seven in the evening, I sat at my desk alone, reading out the first sixty percent of my current nearly-finished work in progress. (The second book of the Hobson & Choi series, since you asked.)
For a couple of years now, the read-out-loud has been the final step of any work before I show it to other people. I vocalise the entire text to an empty house. If you don’t do this, I’m not going to tell you it’s essential (because different strokes for different folks and I would never tell you how to stroke yourself), but if you’ve never even tried it, here’s how it works for me.
The Actual Process, Actually
There are no major secrets in my process. It goes like this:
- Sit at desk with manuscript open.
- Read out a scene, making changes whenever I hit such problems as:
- That phrasing sounds clunky.
- I’ve used that word twice in a short space of time.
- I’ve written “actually” eight times in this sentence, because I always bloody do.
- Keep going until I become distracted or need to pee/eat/other.
- Continue afterwards.
As well as obvious issues that crop up within a scene or paragraph, reading it out makes me more likely to spot issues over a wider space of time. For example, earlier today, I noticed I’d described a character’s clothes using the exact same three words, three scenes apart. These things happen, obviously, but feels good when I catch them.
Maybe I take in the details more when I force the words out of my mouth, rather than maybe lapsing into scan mode when merely eye-reading. Anyway, I genuinely think it goes a long way towards making the final work natural and readable and if you haven’t tried it, it’s worth a go at least once.
Fully Soundproof Balls Of Steel
No-one is perfect, of course. Here are some downsides or issues I have encountered while using this amazing wonder-method to change my life.
As I’ve said before, most impressively on this video-blog, I struggle to get work done in my house. To write with efficiency or volume, I generally sit in local cafes, living the hipster-writer-ponce dream. Unfortunately, unless you have gleaming balls of steel, reading your writing (especially a full-length novel) out to yourself in public is hard to pull off.
Every time I spend a whole day reading out, I look back and see an hour or two I could’ve spent working, rather than procrastinating in various ways. In future, I might try only reading for half the day and going out for the other bit, so I can feel some degree of Full Productivity. At least, until I can persuade my local cafe to install a fully-soundproofed Writer Cubicle for me to work in.
The other related issue: by the time you’ve edited your book a few times and decided on a final polish via the reading-out method, you might be close to sick of it. Forcing the entire text out between your teeth will probably not help, and only make the afore-mentioned procrastination problem worse.
Again, breaking it down into smaller sessions may help, or slotting in some other writing task between drafts to get some distance from it. Failing that, I promise myself some reward at the end (usually from the Food or TV genres) and ram myself through the task mercilessly.
But despite these minor pitfalls, I still think reading out your work is a worthwhile endeavour to consider. If you suddenly want to hear me reading out some work after this post, you can still get all 33 chapters of the Hobson & Choi Podcast on iTunes. Enjoy, and if you have any reading-out tips to share, that is what the comments are for.