How to Add Flow to Your Writing

How to Add Flow to Your WritingAll right, ladies and gents, this is going to be a short post, mostly because what I have to say is very, very simple. It will also improve your writing dramatically. But, whatever, you know? It’s not like any of us are here to learn.

Oh, you are here to learn? Well, that’s awkward. I suppose I should just tell you all about it and scamper off then. Here it comes:

Read your writing aloud.

I don’t care what you’re writing. It could be a press release, it could be website copy, it could be the latest chapter of that novel you’ve been writing for the last five years. Read it aloud. Read every single word.

As you read aloud, clutch a pen or a pencil or a piece of chalk or a charcoal piece or whatever it is you like to write with in your hand. A note: black pens do not show up well on the printed page. I’m not saying you need to go for the full on scary-red pen like your old English teacher used to have, because those things just ruin your day and make the page look like it’s bleeding terribly from a dozen wounds. The point isn’t to be angry at your corrections, because you’re not looking for standard grammar problems.

That’s right. You’re not looking for standard grammar problems. Most writers can generally find those sorts of typographical errors the first time they go through their work without reading aloud. We’re looking for something different.

We’re looking for flow.

When you read aloud, you’ll find certain sentences don’t sound right. Your tongue trips over them. You lose track of what you were trying to say. You find that the comma you inserted in the middle there makes you sound like you have a mild speech disorder.

All of these things are problems with your flow.

Flow is one of those things that many writers claim they cannot teach you. Either you have it or you don’t. That’s more or less true, but it’s a lousy thing to tell a writer. We have enough problems without hearing everything is hopeless. If someone tells you that you don’t have an ear for flow and maybe you should give up this writing thing, you go right ahead and slap them for me. Shame on them.

Unless it’s your mother. Never slap your mother. It’s one of the great rules of life.

Now, there are writers with an innate ability to understand which words flow together and which do not. However – and it’s a big however – just as there are natural dancers and singers and all the rest of it, there are also dancers and singers who became good at it through practice.

This is what reading aloud does for you. It is practice in flow.

So read aloud. If you catch yourself skipping words, take them out of the draft. If you catch yourself substituting one word for another or rearranging the grammar in your head, make the correction.

Do not, I repeat, do not trust yourself to remember where the problems are when you’re done reading. Edit as you go, and make your edits.

Then read it aloud again.

Look at that! This turned out to be a regular-length post after all. Maybe I should read it aloud and see what needs to be taken out. Or I could let James read it aloud, and he’ll take out things for me. An intriguing thought.

Oh, Jamie . . .

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. Your last point, while a joke, is actually another good step.

    Joe Vitale in his book “Hypnotic Writing” also recommends a person have someone else read their writing to them. Since it is important how your writing reads to the person reading it, hearing it from another person’s perspective can be helpful.

  2. reading, reading and reading is the key mantra to get a flow… especially when you are reading a one particular author, after some time you begin to develop his/er style…
    .-= Write a Writing´s last blog ..How to Write Creatively =-.

  3. Tei,

    Oh, yes! flow is so important, and so lacking in a lot of writing! Though you can’t teach flow, this was a good lesson in how to see if you’ve got it. Not so hopeless after all.

    I do like to read my posts out loud. I got it from a lot of theatre training in the long-ago. An actor really has to speak the words, but a reader hears them in about the same way. That’s a lot harder for the original author, unless you take that step and read aloud.

    Patrick’s point is excellent, too—once you’re used to your words, you won’t trip or get confused in nearly as many places as another reader will. I agree, do both whenever possible.

    Regards,

    Kelly
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..5 Things I Learned About C.E. While Cutting James Chartrand’s Hair on my Vacation =-.

  4. Huh. That’s one of those things that now you’ve said it I’m slapping myself and going “that’s really obvious”. And I think you’ve just pinpointed what I disliked about a post I wrote recently. I described it as ‘scattered’ but couldn’t really say why (I know, sounds silly) but I think it’s because when I read it – in my head – it wasn’t flowing.

    Thanks for the tip Tei, I’ll definately be doing this from now on! :-)
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Oars and Bed, Above the Line or Below It? =-.

  5. Lexi Rodrigo says:

    Reading your work aloud is a vital part of editing. My kids sometimes think I’m nuts but they’ve gotten used to it.

    Somebody once told me you should also read your piece aloud *backwards* – this is supposed to be great for catching errors. Tried it once but didn’t find it particularly useful. Any thoughts?
    .-= Lexi Rodrigo´s last blog ..To Win On Elance, You Need to Sell Yourself =-.

    • Lexi
      You have to start with the last sentince and read through forward. Then move up to the second to last sectince read through it forward, continuing through the entire paper moving up a sentince at a time.
      I hope that you find this helpful as a proof reading technique.
      David

  6. Welcome back Kelly! Have not seen you around in a bit.

  7. @ Patrick – Kelly was ensconced in La Belle Province visiting the Canadian Consortium of Men with Pens :)

    @ Lexi – You know, I’ve read that tip a thousand times. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how reading something backwards in a nonsensical way is going to help me.

    However, I do get that the tip usually goes hand-in-hand with editing only, which means that you force your brain NOT to fill in the blanks when it reads typos and you isolate each word to view it separately.

    Still.

    I now have this image of taking a blog post, reading it like a script and putting on a Shakespearean performance.

    Okay. Now I have a vision of doing the very same, only on a street somewhere in a very impromptu manner. I wonder what people would do, if I suddenly stopped and launched into reading one of my posts aloud with arms waving and great intonation….

    I’ve obviously had too much coffee.

  8. Patrick,

    Thanks! How nice to be noticed!

    James,

    I was going to say that MWP has gone to the dogs and I can’t be bothered. Now you’ve ruined it. Because yesterday’s post-title doesn’t give it away or anything…

    Lexi,

    I’ve read that, too, and never gotten any use out of it.

    Until later,

    Kelly
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..5 Things I Learned About C.E. While Cutting James Chartrand’s Hair on my Vacation =-.

  9. So can we have an audio version of this post? James reads it aloud and inserts some Quebeçois?

    Just kidding…

  10. @ Martin – Ask Kelly. You wouldn’t be able to understand a word 😉

  11. Hmpf. I understood 2/3 of the words. Can I help it if my fledgling French is the France kind?

    But I was terrified to speak up. I’ll admit to that.

    Even my kid can swear in Quebeçois now, though. Watch out, 5th-graders!

    Later…
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: How to Touch the Sky =-.

  12. My red-pen man boss swore by that *read-it backwards* tip. It never did a thing for me. But then again I’m dislexic so maybe I already do? ( just kidding)

    Anyhow…Tei, Great tip! I love reading my stuff out loud..it really helps and I catch things that sound really really dumb, though, can’t say those around me always like it… but then my kids think I’m crazy even when I’m not reading out loud so I guess it doesn’t matter.

    So Kelly, are you saying James is really scary? I thought he would be a big gentle bear of a guy. Now I’m confused. (Hmmm. More like Race or more like Cooper?….*Scratches head*…hmmm…I wonder… :) )
    .-= Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations´s last blog ..Precious Moments =-.

  13. Wendi,

    No, terrified to use my French out in public. Not terrified of James.

    A silly ol’ bear, James is. We have a lot in common. 😉

    Until later…
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: How to Touch the Sky =-.

  14. Um, but definitely not bear in the sense of Cooper. More like Race, lol.

    (Kelly needs to read Escaping Reality…)

  15. But Race is a birdie and not a bear. (Or have I missed something?)

  16. (… with all my free time…)
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: How to Touch the Sky =-.

  17. Easy, practical advice that works! Write, read, edit. Repeat.

  18. Interesting point about the pen colour. I used to work for a company that edited documents for clarity and the suggested changes were far more likely to be accepted by clients when they were in blue rather than red. The editors concluded that it must be the schoolteacher effect with red making people more likely to feel they were being corrected rather than advised.

  19. I use green for corrections most of the time: green means go, and green means $$$. Keeps me smiling while I’m tearing stuff up and I hope it works for others, too.
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: How to Touch the Sky =-.

  20. Great tip, I’ll have to try it. I notice that I often find mistakes I didn’t before after posting…possibly because of the slightly different format and colors.
    .-= Kaushik´s last blog ..A Gentle Honesty =-.

  21. The read-aloud tip is one that I gave my high school students a lot, but I found that it doesn’t help when the problem with their writing is that their formal papers sound too much like informal speech.

    I think we academic writer-types tend to imitate textbooks when we write and therefore come across sounding too uppity for our own good, so turning a paper into a speech helps us bring down the academiceese.

    But what about people who tend towards the other end of the spectrum? Any ideas on what I can tell high schoolers who need to learn to write papers that don’t read the way they talk?

  22. Patrick – If you can find a willing accomplice, having someone else read your stuff aloud can indeed be extremely helpful. Though I’ve learned not to trust their edits, necessarily. The problem is that many willing editors don’t know what it takes to create flow either, so they may not be able to help you make changes, even if they think they can.

    Write a Writing – That’s true, though I’ve often encountered avid readers who can’t seem to master the basics of grammar, much less flow. I credit my own ability to manage the English language to my childhood reading tons of books. Now bad grammar and poor sentence structure stand out to me. But evidently this isn’t the case for everyone.

    Kelly – Actors are useful buggers in so many ways. For example, one of my actor-friends just made me banana pancakes. And taught me proper elocution.

    Melinda – My work here is done. ::swoops into the sky, cape a-furl::

    Lexi – If your kids don’t think you’re nuts, you’re probably doing something wrong. Backwards reading sounds like something a cop would make you do for a sobriety test. I knew a cop who actually said that the backwards-alphabet thing doesn’t work the way you’d expect to filter out the drunk from the sober. He says drunks try and fail. Sober people just say, “I can’t do that!”

    O’course, I can recite the alphabet backwards with a swiftness drunk or sober, thanks to my second-grade class. We were very bored. I can also spell Mississippi faster than anyone ever, backards and for’ards.

    James – I will pay you money to do this. And videotape it. It’s like flash-mobbing, but with blogs. Flash-blogging!

    Martin – I will make an attempt, but I’m not sure it will work. We’ll see if we’re all up for it at MwP headquarters.

    Wendi – What kind of crack is everyone on? How is reading it backwards going to help you find grammatical problems? Half the time the grammatical problem is two words transposed, which means it would sound correct reading it backwards. I hate everyone. Except you. You continue to be delightful.

    John – That’s true, actually. Black doesn’t show well, so you’re liable to miss edits like punctuation changes. Blue is good because it shows but doesn’t feel aggressive. I prefer green, myself. Orange and yellow don’t show up very well. Purple would work, but who the hell uses purple? Besides that Teletubby who was in so much trouble awhile back?

    Kelly – THIEF! GREEN PEN THIEF! ALERTING AUTHORITIES!

    Laura – Indeed. I am like the awesome detergent of bloggers. Or something.

    Kaushik – That’s true, and often you re-read as you go when you blog, so you miss things that you don’t when you read the whole thing over again.

    Rose – I remember this problem from high school as well. My best advice is to have them read OTHER people’s essays aloud, and by “other people” I mean “professional essayists”. Give them some interesting stuff, like E.B. White or something, but let them hear what formal, persuasive writing sounds like. Their problem is they don’t know what they’re shooting for, and most of the examples are of their own peers’ writing, which isn’t cutting it either.
    .-= Tei Lindstrom – Men with Pens´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  23. I use purple. For writing fiction only. And not because I write like Tinky-Winky. The purple pens called to me one day and I answered.
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Inspiration Points: How to Touch the Sky =-.

  24. Great Post. Yes, I do read it aloud first as I have to share it with a critique group every week, and read it to them.

  25. I definitely use this tip frequently in my own writing. If I can’t seem to get the right sentence out I read the surrounding sentences out loud a few times. It always helps me fill in the blanks. It always helps with editing, too. Great tip!
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Proprioceptive Writing: The Rules and Concluding Questions =-.

  26. Kelly, I had to search the house the other day for a black pen to write a cheque. (stole it from the kidlet in the end) I always use green, purple or the loveliest bright pink pens to write with. It’s funny how often I get comments about pen colour too, when I’m taking notes at meetings or school.

    And the different colours show up well on a printed page too. :-)
    .-= Melinda | WAHM Biz Builder´s last blog ..Oars and Bed, Above the Line or Below It? =-.

  27. Excellent advice. Right now, a client and I are doing a read-aloud edit of his novel in preparation for his self-publishing the book. We spend most of the day on the phone—the client reads, and I follow along on the manucript. Even though I’ve edited the manuscript a couple of times, we still find things by reading aloud that we missed on previous edits.
    .-= Lillie Ammann´s last blog ..Interview on NAIWE Podcast Today =-.

  28. I usually don’t wear my reading glasses but always need to if I’m going to read something aloud where I then notice the edit widows and the strange spellings and the “what the heck was that sentence supposed to say?” parts that I don’t notice reading aloud if I’m not wearing my glasses.

    I guess without my glasses my brain works harder and so skips right over the errors that my eyes don’t see properly. 😉
    .-= Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome´s last blog ..Lessons in Happiness =-.

  29. essay writer says:

    I just sometimes know in my mind that I am writing the right and complete phrase, but eventually I usually forget the other word. I know in my mind but I haven’t written the word, so I’m messing up all my writing by that. Sometimes I read it already but, haven’t noticed it, cause it already register in my mind, but then I need to read it aloud so I would notice my grammar error.

  30. Even better is if you can read your writing aloud to another person, even on the phone. I find if I read out loud to myself in my head I “auto correct” what isn’t flowing – and then if I read to a friend I’m like “Damn how’d I miss THAT clunker.” Great advice guys.
    .-= Jerry Kolber´s last blog ..How To Write a Story =-.

  31. Or read aloud into a recorder and play it back to yourself.

    Might by a mic headphone for the PC, actually…

  32. Gentlemen,

    Thanks so very much for saying what I’ve said to my students SO MANY TIMES. (Seriously, at least 200 times in a school year.) The difference between good and excellent copy is whether or not the author ready it aloud. There is nothing like hearing the words in use a.k.a. the flow. You can’t get that from silent reading.

  33. HAHA. And it seems my eyes skipped over that spelling mistake. I meant read*. How smooth. *_*

  34. Nice piece of suggestion. Yes it is better to read loudly to rectify your own mistake. But you allow and share your blog to other critics then you will rectify as soon as possible.

  35. Thanks for the article. I tried this technique yesterday and it felt funny. But it is useful. I was thinking reading a loud can improve enunciation and voice projection.

  36. Yes reading is very important before you finalize any press release or article what ever you are writing. What will happen is when you will read the paragraphs you will be able to know which words are not suitable or where you need to put a comma something like that. And the flow will come after you read for a period of time.

Trackbacks

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  3. […] blogger named Taylor at the menwithpens.ca website expands on Langewiesche’s idea in a helpful […]

  4. […] some great tips to get your writing to flow? Check out How to Add Flow to Your Writing from  Men With Pens. The author suggests you read your writing aloud with a pen or marker in hand […]

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