Sometimes Editing Tires Out My Vocal Cords
I can’t recall where I first heard that reading your work aloud could really help with the editing process. Jason Black probably mentioned it in one of his talks at the PNWA Conference. Or perhaps Sally Harding planted the seed in my brain during one of our many conversations. But I never really tried it until I did my last edit on my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl) back in February. I found it highly effective on that story, especially since that story hadn’t been through the gauntlet of multiple beta readers, and I had no intention of paying a professional editor for something I wasn’t going to actually charge for.
The idea of moving my lips while reading one of my novels scared the crap out me. My novels are roughly four times as long as the novella. Reading an 80000 word novel out loud seemed like a recipe for disaster considering my frail vocal cords have about a 2000 word limit at any one sitting—a side effect of a bad case of mono back in the 1990s, and lingering effects of my GBS.
But after trying it with the novella, and repeating it with success with a number of blog entries and even some emails over the last few weeks, I decided to try it with Nowhere Wild. I didn’t expect to find much. I’ve edited this puppy at least 20 times. I’ve had it read by a half dozen readers. I figured there would be a couple of places where I’d added a word that didn’t need to be there, or removed one that should have been left behind.
Yeah, there were a few more changes than that.
I printed the novel in 50 page chunks. 50 pages isn’t too much to carry around, and if, for some reason, I wasn’t able to get through the whole thing, it didn’t seem like a complete waste of paper and ink. It was at this point I learned that my printer is not capable of true double-sided, collated printing, so I had to print it single sided. Sorry trees. Next time, I’ll send the whole MSS down to the local copy shop and get it done in a single shot with half the paper.
I sat down with a highlighter in hand, and read every word. If a section seemed clumsy, I circled it so I could come back to it later. If a word was wrong, I highlighted it and moved on. Simple mistakes I fixed with a quick note. I tried to edit without breaking my speaking flow. Long notes interrupted my cadence and made it impossible to capture the true pace of the scene.
I did about 25 pages a day, so two days per 50 page section and twelve or thirteen days for the whole book. At the end of each 50 page section, I went back through and transcribed the notes into the book, and fixed the issues while the memories were still fresh in my brain.
I’m amazed at how many problems I found using this simple technique. Word territory issues, extra phrases, and dialog stumbles really pop out when you engage your lips. I had heard that, but I never really believed it until I tried it. I wish I had used it on all of my work before sending it out. I know I will do it in the future, including on these blog entries.
If you’ve never tried this technique, I sincerely hope you give it a try, even if you are going to pay for a professional editor. If you’re going to self-publish anything, it’s like having someone sitting over your shoulder while you edit, pointing out all the mistakes you missed the first dozen times you read the piece. I think it’s well worth the effort.