Friday, April 27, 2012

Revision: Out Loud and Proud

Experienced writers and writing teachers often recommend reading your work out loud as part of the revision process. They’re so right.

It may be a chore. It may make you hoarse. It may take a whole day—time you could have spent rewatching every episode of Freaks and Geeks. Do it anyway.

When I read my work out loud, in an empty house, I catch all kinds of sticky spots I didn’t catch when reading silently.
  • Repeated words. It’s much easier to hear duplicated words when reading aloud. Today, I came upon a sentence that read: “I thought about writing about the track meet.” I’d read this sentence silently any number of times already, but it wasn’t until I read it out loud that I heard the two instances of “about.” Some repetition is valuable; this repetition was not.
  • Unnatural words. When reading aloud, you may sometimes say a word or phrase that’s different from the one written on the page. When this happens, ask yourself, Did the misreading actually improve the text? You may want to rephrase.
  • False notes. Not every writer tries to attain the musical heights reached by William Faulkner or Toni Morrison. Still, words and sentences do have sounds and rhythms, and there’s no better time to attend to them than when reading out loud.
  • Extraneous words. Reading aloud can help you hear and pare away fat—extraneous words that detract from your prose. Fatty spots feel empty on the tongue—non-nutritive. Catch them before the editor does.
  • Other rough spots. Reading aloud can help you find all sorts of other rough spots. They may be shifts in your narrator’s tone (as brief as a single word), or instances of just plain bad writing—words, images, or phrases that don’t reveal their true hideousness until you hear them read out loud.
Others (agents, editors, copyeditors, drivers of the recycling truck) will read your work-in-progress silently, but you’ll likely be the only one willing to read it out loud prior to publication. Do it now, so that when you’re doing a public reading someday, finished work in hand, you won’t be hearing those rough spots for the first time.


Elisabeth Dahl's first book, GENIE WISHES, an MG contemporary novel with line drawings, is due out from Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books, in the spring of 2013. She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. Elisabeth lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her family in a house that is, fortunately, hers alone for a few hours every day. You can find Elisabeth at her website, on her Facebook author page, and on Twitter (@Elisabeth Dahl). She is represented by Marissa Walsh of FinePrint Literary Management.


  1. Lovely post, Elisabeth! I also admire very much your bag, and the picture in general.

    Chelsey x

    1. Thanks, Chelsey! The bag, which came from Melville House (, may be my all-time favorite possession.

  2. I love this. I can't tell you the number of times I've told a writer, "This sentence is a little clunky. Read it out loud and you'll see what I mean."

    Some authors say they like uploading their mss to Kindle and having it read aloud to them. Haven't tried that yet, but sounds interesting.

  3. I'm a big believer in the Reading Aloud and Proud program. :) There are even applications that will read back to you, although with a very computery-like voice.

  4. Great advice about reading my work out! I do it all the time. It not only sounds different than when it's done in the mind but also rough spots show up better. Again, great advice!

  5. Thanks, everyone--I see I'm in good company in the Read-Aloud Club! When I get bored, I do voices sometimes--old man for young girl is a particularly hilarious option, sort of a la Amy's Diary ( (The Nov. 2 entry, in particular, slays me.)

  6. Absolutely agreed! Also, reading aloud is more fun when you pretend that you are famous and a bunch of wide-eyed fans are listening to you. Not that... I... do... that....

  7. Loved this post. I read aloud whenever I'm not sure what's wrong with a scene's language and it always helps.It also helps if you can get a friend to read it to you because they've never seen it before and may get tripped up in a spot you wouldn't because you're anticipating the language--has to be a very dedicated and loyal friend though! 300 pages=dry mouth and sore throat:D

  8. Great post! I always read my MS aloud; like you point out, it's amazing how much stuff you pick up by doing this. When you look at a screen or page, it's easy to skim-read, but saying the words out loud forces you to consider every single one.

  9. This was a great post and a great breakdown of the reasons to read a MS out loud!

  10. I couldn't agree more! When I'm talking to school groups about revision (hmm--a favorite topic amongst English teachers) I always make this point! I used to read from a print out of the entire novel instead of the laptop screen, and I think I will go back to that practice. I'll just have to buy carbon offsets. Reading in a different format also helps the author catch hidden problems.

  11. Thank you for the tip! Beating myself up when I come across what seemed like an obvious blunder can be frustrating. I appreciate you sharing the mistakes you found along the way. Makes me feel normal . Congrats on the book! I just finished my "first ever" first draft. I've gone through it a couple times, but the manuscript will benefit from your tips, I'm certain. Blessings!
    (btw--I'm a friend of your husbands from California :)