Editing 101: Reading your work out loud

Join us to talk plotting vs. pantsing on

Here at PageCurl, we believe that every author needs an editor. Patricia, our Founding Editorial Director, has fifteen years of editing experience and her own editor routinely finds mistakes that she can’t even believe. It doesn’t matter how much of a grammar ninja you are or how carefully you read your work, there are always things you’re going to miss.

That said, there are several things that we recommend doing before you send your work off to that pro. If you’re not going to hire a pro (hey, we might not advocate for it, but we know it happens), this is even more important.

Today, we’re going to talk about reading your work out loud.

What? You want me to read my entire 100,000 word novel out loud? Why? I’ve read it ten times already. What more is reading it out loud going to do?

Grab a cup of tea and let’s talk.

Reading out loud is totally different than reading silently.

This is an awesome tool to keep in your wheelhouse. You’ll catch so many little things that aren’t mistakes, per se, but that make your writing somehow less. Repeated words. Take the following passage.

The crack of the bat against his skull sent pain shooting down his back. Peter whirled, hauled back and threw his fist into his assailant’s face. The crack of bones breaking in his hand reverberated in the room. He shook his hand in pain and stumbled back.

Not a bad little passage, right? Wrong. It is. Read it out loud. Crack. Back. Crack. Back. Two words, each repeated twice. That’s poor writing. But when you read it silently, you don’t always catch that. Is this better?

The sharp thud of the bat against his skull sent pain skittering over his spine. Peter whirled, throwing his best punch towards his assailant’s face. Crunch, pop, snap, went the bones of his hand. The sounds echoed in the room. He cradled his hand to his chest and retreated a few steps.

Yes. Better. Repeated words can be a crutch.

But repeated words aren’t the only thing you should look for.

There are some phrases that are perfectly correct grammatically, but simply aren’t very easy to read. Consider the following passage.

The roar was a hurricane surrounding her. It didn’t quite until strong arms lifted her against a hard, warm chest. She couldn’t thank. Nothing made sense.

Do you see what’s wrong with that passage? Quite should be quiet and thank should be think. Those words are both spelled correctly. When you’re reading silently, especially if you’ve read this passage over and over again, you’re going to read what you expect to see. You know what should be there. You’ll read it as you intended. When you read out loud, you’re more likely to notice these errors. Why? It’s odd, but your brain processes words differently when reading out loud as opposed to reading silently.

I’m going to feel silly/stupid/self-conscious doing this.

Yes, you probably will. At least at first. If you happen to write and edit within earshot of a loved one, you might need to bribe them for some time alone. Or go shut yourself in a bedroom for an hour at a time. It’s going to take you a while to do this. A 100,000 word book is probably going to take you about twenty-five to thirty hours to read and edit. More your first time. But it’s worth it.

PageCurl Master Checklist for Writers

  1. Eliminate or greatly reduce the usage of the following phrases: I heard, I felt, I saw, I knew, I smelled, I realized.
  2. Read your work out loud and look for repeated words and common phrases. If you stumble over reading a phrase, consider that your readers might as well.

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