We find ourselves in bed with George Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy.
It’s late, but as ever, George sits up with his back on the headboard, manuscript on his lap, reading aloud to his young wife.
“I love that line and the story’s really coming on, Eric, but you should make them all animals,” says Eileen. “A fat fascist pig, quite literally. It would work, I think.”
Yes, thinks George. Now that is an idea. What if it all took place on a farm, Stalin as a porker?
Of course, we’ll never truly know how much influence Eileen O’Shaughnessy had on Animal Farm or any of his work, but from her letters, we do know Orwell would often read aloud his work to her to check it over.
The murder-mystery producing machine–otherwise known as Ruth Rendell–was another who read her work aloud:
“If anything sounds sort of clumsy and not possible to read aloud to oneself,” she said, “it doesn’t work.”
And American humourist and modern-day womble, David Sedaris (he admits to being ‘obsessed’ with litter picking), tests draft versions of his short stories aloud in front of live audiences to improve the phrasing and flow.
Yes, one of the best ways to stress-test the first draft of your work is to read it aloud.
If you’re worried a sentence isn’t quite hitting the mark or your voice isn’t sounding authentic on the page, speaking it aloud is extremely effective at highlighting areas in need of improvement.
Some of the sales letters I write for direct-response clients are obscenely long. They often run to ten thousand words apiece.
But still, after completing the first draft, I sit in my office–or find a quiet spot in the house–and read the whole thing aloud.
I’d say–honestly–I read aloud 80% of what I write.
OK. Will you accept 67%?
I mean, my long-suffering partner Ruth can only handle so much of me reading my bad jokes aloud to her in our kitchen.
But the fact is, it works. Invariably so.
There are few better ways to check the tone, the pace, or the punctuation of your writing.
And, the good thing about reading your work aloud is…you can do it alone. Hurrah.
You can become your own internal editor.
Though, if you’re able to have someone read your work aloud to you, it’s even more effective.
Reading aloud yourself and recording it to playback later is another option.
Either way, the key is in listening and being disciplined–not only in noting words, sentences or passages you stumble upon–but actively changing them.
You see, this is the beautiful simplicity of reading something aloud as a form of editing.
When you stutter or slur, the line needs work.
Don’t try to read it again so you can get it right this time. Change it.
Rewrite it how your brain naturally wanted to say it.
Take out the word you skipped over.
Reorganise the sentence your tongue twisted.
And if you should cringe over a pretentious word or shudder at a cliché you’ve written in unintentionally, strike it out.
Begone foul beast, you should shout at the errant enunciation, your kind is not welcome here!
You can also edit out overwriting too, though I’ll leave in the previous sentence as an example.
Bottom line is, reading aloud your work does take time if you commit to doing it properly, but, like L’Oréal, it’s worth it. Or maybe it’s the Maybelline. I’m not sure. Stop hassling me.
Either way, though in the short term it takes up a tad more time than hovering over the page visually, you’ll save time in the long run. You’ll pick up far more in reading aloud than you would do scanning silently in your head.
P.S. On reflection, it may not even be the Maybelline, but in fact, the Glossier. I don’t know. I’m lost, OK? Leave me now. Go. This email is finished. Please. It’s better for us both this way.
P.P.S. I’ve been informed it was, in actual fact, and utterly inexplicably, MAC.
P.P.P.S. I will stop now. Look away. There’s nothing more to see here.