The Secret to Better Self-Editing

Posted January 15, 2015 by Amanda Shofner in Editing / 8 Comments

The secret to self-editing is reading out loud

Ahh, self-editing. For most writers (including me!), it’s not a favorite part of the writing and publishing process. There’s no shame in disliking it, unless you skip it. That’s just naughty.

And while you can use an automatic self-editing tool to ease the process, one low-tech tactic is guaranteed to help you catch more:

Reading your book out loud

Can I tell you a secret? As an editor, I can tell when authors haven’t put a lot of effort into self-editing. It shows. Although a copy editor will catch those mistakes, lazy self-editing means a harder time for your copy editor, and that means more mistakes might slip through. The more mistakes, the easier it is to miss one.

Not being “good” at proofreading or grammar isn’t a reason to skip self-editing. Reading out loud allows you to experience your book in a new format — here are those benefits.

1. Catch pesky typos

Your brain processes spoken language differently, meaning those pesky typos you’d fill in when reading silently suddenly pop out. When I read Hidden Illusions, I caught mistakes like “from” when I needed “for” and omitted words.

2. Check the authenticity of your dialogue

When you read dialogue out loud, does it sound like real speech? If you use dialogue to share information or back story that’s necessary to move the story forward, it needs to be integrated seamlessly into the story or it’ll read stilted—and it’ll be glaringly obvious you’re info dumping.

Your characters shouldn’t sound the same, either. When editing, I made sure my characters in authority positions gave commands and avoided softer language (like framing their request in a question), for example. How your characters talk is an easy way to work on their development.

3. Identify rough sentences

If you have to read a sentence multiple times to say it right, your readers will probably have the same problem. Sometimes the fix is quick, like adding a comma to separate clauses, but sometimes it’ll require you to rewrite the sentence for clarity.

4. Get a feel for the flow of your story

Your book takes on new life when read out loud. It’ll be much easier to “hear” boring parts or places where the action moves too fast.

What reading out loud looks like in practice

I read Hidden Illusions out loud before I sent it to my copy editor. It took me about six hours to do this—a big time commitment, I know, but six hours amounts to about 35% of the time I spent on Hidden Illusions in between the copy editing and publishing stages.

If you don’t track how much time you spend on your book — in writing, editing, marketing, and formatting — you might not realize where all your time goes. I use Toggl to track my time, and it’s quite enlightening. (Sometimes it keeps me from getting distracted, too.)

To make it easy, I put my draft of Hidden Illusions on my Kindle—I was tired of sitting in my chair, and having it on my Kindle allowed me to stand up and walk around while reading out loud. I kept a Word doc open on my computer and used that to make changes as I found issues to address.

If you feel a little silly reading your work out loud (I know I did at first), it’s totally okay. Just keep at it. You’ll find your groove.

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8 responses to “The Secret to Better Self-Editing

  1. Reading out loud is – in my humble opinion – the BEST way to edit your work 🙂

    I even read other novels out loud to process them better, especially if I am getting stuck on a particular passage.

    Thank you #HUGS
    Kitto

  2. Great suggestion. It is definitely much easier to catch your mistakes while reading aloud, not to mention the overall tone. Was it what was intended. This is a technique I used to teach my students during the writing process. Thanks for bringing it back to the forefront.

    • Do it anyway! If music doesn’t bother you while you work, play some while you read out loud. It drowns out your voice and makes it less awkward. That’s what I did.

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