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.