On reading your work aloud

After “read, read, read,” my second biggest piece of advice for aspiring writers is this: Read your work aloud. Here’s why.

Sure, it’s the best way to catch mistakes. But what reading aloud really does is force you to slow down. It forces you to move through the story of your book alongside your characters, in as close to real time as possible.

When you read aloud, a funny thing happens. (Even if it’s the billionth time you’ve revised something.) You feel things. You’ll get that gut sense of what feels true and honest. As well as what doesn’t.

You’ll get embarrassed. Maybe because what you wrote is so raw and from the heart that it’s almost too much to put in the book. In those cases, especially, I think it means you need to. But you’ll also get embarrassed when you notice something that doesn’t live up to your own standards. A word. A sentence. A scene. A chapter.

Reading aloud takes time. There’s no way to get around it. It takes a lot of time. But is that time worth it in the long run? Absolutely.

This week I’ve been reading aloud my WIP. Fifty-ish pages a day. It’ll take the entire week. It’s maybe the third or fourth time I’ve done it for this particular project — this is the 13th draft and it’s not done yet. But I know I’ve made progress because even though I’m about as familiar as you can get with the book, certain scenes are still choking me up. Eliciting tears even though I’m the story’s architect.

Now I’m not saying you have to read it aloud to anyone. (Though cats and dogs are excellent listeners.) I have an author friend who did exactly that, though. She read aloud an entire draft to her friends.

But if you’ve never done it before, give it a try. See what you learn from it. You’re likely to find your own takeaways, beyond what I’ve noticed. And if you’re a teacher, encourage your students to read their work aloud. Doesn’t need to be to their classmates. I’d be curious to hear their takeaways.

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