Monday, February 18, 2013

Revision & Self-Editing Part 2: Read It Out Loud

My number one tip for revision/editing is to read your work out loud.

It's absolutely indispensable for catching errors that you otherwise might miss. For example, one of the most common (and annoying) errors I run into in my own work is leftover words I forgot to delete when I revised a sentence:

He turned the the car around.

If I read that sentence out loud, my eye just skips over the second "the," but when someone else reads it out loud, the extra "the" jumps out at me.

Reading out loud also helps catch awkward sentences and discordant word choices. Sentences have a rhythm to them, depending on word choice, and sometimes a sentence can be grammatically correct but "sound" choppy when read out loud. Sometimes a sentences doesn't look like its a run on, but when you read it out loud you find yourself gasping for breath halfway through.

These are all problems that are brought to light when you read out loud.

The best option would be to have a nice volunteer read your story out loud to you, but in cases where you don't have a volunteer standing by, there are software programs that will do it for you.

Originally, I used WordTalk to read my story back to me. It's a free plug-in for Microsoft Word and you can get it here. Though the website doesn't mention anything about Windows 8, I have it installed on a Windows 8 machine using Microsoft Office 2010 and it works fine.

These days, I'm using Dragon Naturally Speaking because it reads text AND takes dictation. I use the dictation feature both during drafting and during revision to make small changes. It's also handy when I'm taking notes. I happen to be a "how-to" junkie, and I read a lot of how-to books. I'll leave the microphone on but sleeping while I'm reading. When I get to a passage that I want to take notes on, I'll give the "wake up" command and dictate the note instead of trying to juggle the book in one hand and type/write a note with the other. One caveat: you have to be careful when you are using dictation mode, because it will pick up anything you say and insert it into your document. For example, the dogs (Abby and Roscoe) were being unruly while I was revising a draft, and I ended up with this:

Something splashed in the water behind him. He spun and squinted at the water rippling in the moonlight. Frogs croaked in the damn it Abby, get your head out of the garbage weeds at the water's edge.

If I hadn't caught that little addition, it certainly would have left a acquisitions editor scratching his/her head! So be very careful with the dictation feature!

The playback feature in Dragon Naturally Speaking is very similar to WordTalk, though I do think the WordTalk playback is easier to use. The Dragon Naturally Speaking version I'm using is for Windows XP/7, but I'm running it on a Windows 8 machine and it works fine.

Of course, you're going to need more than just software to help you make your manuscript shine.

The books I've found most useful for matters of style & grammar are:


The Chicago Manual of Style is the Publishing industry bible. Painless Grammar, Painless Writing, and Writers Inc. are not books that I bought for my fiction writing career; they are books I bought for the kids while we were homeschooling! But the very things that made them perfect for the kids (clear and simple instruction, great indexing for looking up words/problems) also make them a perfect quick-reference for this old dog who hasn't taken an English class in over a decade! I STILL have issues with the use of lay/lie/laid, and these books include a nice little chart I can refer to during editing.

My other favorite books on revision and editing include:


Revision and editing is my least favorite part of the writing process, but it's a necessary evil (and if you've seen any of my first drafts, you KNOW how necessary it is for me)! These books and software make the process a little less painful.

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