All 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 . . .