Andromeda/Your Turn: Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I’m a big believer in revision — not just the fine polish, but the entire “re-seeing” of a project through multiple drafts — and I’m comfortable giving revision advice. One of my favorites: When revising, read your work out loud. That’s how you locate the clunky parts.

Have I taken my own advice? Errrr — sometimes. I mean, I guess I’d read a few pages at a time out loud, here and there. I know I had told myself to do this more, especially when, while reading out loud from a published work in a public venue, I found myself still wanting to edit.

When we read silently, of course, we scan — over the redundant phrases and the inadvertent echoes, the unintentional rhymes or excess alliterations. When we read aloud: all becomes clear. Certain words that have been used over and over. Other words that don’t belong in a certain character’s mouth. The flat phrases, and the overembellished ones.

Last week, I worked on yet another revision of my current novel-in-progress, which I have read in full at least three or four times, and in bits and pieces more times than I can count. My husband has looked at it, too. I knew typos still lurked, and some tense problems where I had changed from present to past tense (inconsistently), which I was bound to miss on further fast readings.

So I made myself read it out loud. All of it. I hoped it would take one good, long day. The first day, I spent 4 hours on about 20 pages. Crap. The next day I read aloud another 40 pages or so. More days; more pages. Have I mentioned I don’t particularly enjoy the sound of my own voice? Every time I wanted to quit, I’d read the next page and find another unintentionally repeated word or rhyme or unnecessary dialogue tag or odd rhythm. Last night, I finally finished. It took — I’ve lost count — maybe 20 hours.

Reading every single word out loud shocked me. How had I failed to do this with previous projects? There were awkward phrases and infelicities on nearly every page! It was like going to a makeup counter with one of those high-powered mirrors and really seeing your skin for the first time in a long time — every sun-weathered spot and every pore.

I knew before, but now I really know. Next time, when I think a project is nearing completion, I’ll read every page out loud, before I submit to any agent, editor, or friendly reader. (Not this blog, though. Just to be clear: If you see no typos or errors here, ever, that’s a bad thing. It means I’m spending too much time blogging and not enough time writing.)

Which makes me wonder, what other pieces of writing advice do many of us preach but not follow?

Share your favorites …

3 thoughts on “Andromeda/Your Turn: Do As I Say, Not As I Do”

  1. I dish out the standard advice about revising and making sure a book is ready before you launch it to the world. But I get impatient with wanting to get my work out. It doesn't help that I dashed out my first novel, sent it off, and got a contract with very little revision.

    I also have a preference for micro vs. macro editing. I like to say that the less you want to do something, the more you probably need to do it. But following that advice with my own projects, when they feel so good and done, that's another matter.

  2. Think of the writing in "preview" mode, like these comments–I even go to Kinko's and have the ms printed as a snazzy bound book and it changes the whole way I read/proofread/copyedit it.

  3. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Oh yes, how I love a coil-bound double-sided Kinko's copy. I do that at intervals, too, for the pleasure and ease of reading a ms that looks more like a real book. (Funny how you actually read/revise it differently when it looks that crisp and clean.)

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