Everyone loves editing, right? (Copyeditors sit down. This post isn’t about you) The review of your writing for the zillionth time, removing – and replacing – commas as you question every English lesson stored in the back of your brain. Watching the time tick down out of the corner of your eye. All while you swear everything’s perfect. Or is it? If you’re only scanning a screen, skipping the step of reading aloud, odds are you’re missing critical mistakes.
Not to mention losing the chance to polish your writing.
The Editing Process
Brace yourself because I’m about to shock 95% of the people I see post on the internet:
The first words you slap down are not perfect.
You CANNOT throw a draft in front of someone and expect publication, a check, an award, whatever. Not one writer on this planet can craft sheer genius without editing. (Why else would editors exist?)
Our brains – especially the creative parts – work faster than our fingers. So we make typographical errors, misspell words, use the wrong word, and sprinkle commas throughout pieces like fairy dust. (Maybe you’re not a comma fiend; feel free to substitute semicolon, ellipses, em/en dash, parenthesis, or whatever punctuation mark you’re addicted to)
This is why we (hopefully) edit our work. And every writer relies on the process to ensure they don’t look like a complete idiot when they send writing into the world. You can even hire an editor to take the task off your shoulders, going deeper and deeper into the process:
- Line Editor
- Developmental Editor
- Manuscript Critiquer
However, most people like to handle at least the basics (up through line editing) themselves.
Or they TRY to.
Scanning vs. Reading Aloud
How often do you skim through your writing (whether we’re talking copy, blogs, short stories, or novel chapters), pat yourself on the back for catching errors, dash it off to someone, and THEN spot problems? Or have them turn around and point out issues?
And I’m not even talking little things.
I mean BIG, GLARING typos.
The sort of stuff you KNOW your eyeballs would have caught.
Even if you employ Grammarly or Hemingway or another AI, these things can squeak by (or the robots create them). You can’t rely on a machine to read behind you.
And you can’t assume the brain that created the words will see the problems the fingers generated.
See, the disconnect IS your brain. You KNOW what that sentence is supposed to say. So as your eyes skim over the text, you naturally supply missing words, flip around text, and even pause in appropriate places. You sabotage your editing attempts.
Something that doesn’t happen as often when reading aloud.
When we speak, we naturally slow down. (Most of us. I’m one of those guilty people that speed talk) Slide a printed page in front of us, stand us up in front of an audience, and our minds switch from “editor” to “speaker.” So we stop adjusting things and start SEEING them.
Try Reading Aloud
Now, I’m not suggesting you book a venue and arrange for ticket sales. (I mean, you can if you WANT) Reading aloud doesn’t require a big fanfare. All you need to do is trick your brain away from “fill in the blank” mode.
Print out whatever you’re editing. Make the font a comfortable size for your vision, and choose a Sans Serif type. Yes, even if you find them boring. The human eye reads those fonts more easily, which means you’ll spot punctuation problems. Remember, this is an EDITING exercise, not a presentation project.
If you find you work better with an audience, stand in front of a mirror. Otherwise, all you need to do is turn away from your monitor, get out of your chair, and start reading. Yes, OUT LOUD.
This isn’t a timed exercise. You don’t win points by getting to the end in under 3 seconds. Nor are you impressing anyone by reading to snails. Pick a comfortable speaking rate. And only read what you see on the page. Whenever you notice a problem, stop and make a note.
Odds are, you’ll need to repeat the process a few times before you’ll get through without stopping. But are your usual edits any different?
I use plenty of editing tricks for my writing. I leave projects sitting for months when I can, so my brain goes “dead.” Then I return to them – and find hundreds of errors. I also have beta readers for my speculative fiction. Because nothing beats another set of eyes.
But sometimes deadlines don’t offer those luxuries.
And I can read the same piece five times, find ONE thing each time, and still feel uncertain. (Or publish it, go back months later, and cringe when I spot an error)
Reading aloud takes a few minutes out of my day. So I don’t fall behind on my schedule. But I get a chance to hear problems. And see them, too.
Something in the shift between speaking from reading triggers my brain to calm down and focus differently. So all those extra commas start waving. (No, not literally) Or sentences that made perfect sense on my screen turn into a garbled mess. I can slow down, regroup, and fix the problem.
Saving myself a heap of embarrassment.
Give it a try. I promise, the only thing you have to lose is a bunch of errors you didn’t want around in the first place.