It’s Susan Orlean’s number one tip for editing. It’s Joanna Penn’s must do for final review. And Hugh Howey (author of Wool) doesn’t think you’re taking yourself seriously as a writer unless you have done this on each finished piece (it’s not finished until you’ve done this).
And I do this now. I read my work out loud.
I used to read it out on paper print, edit with a pencil, and then later go back to the screen. But I’ve found that editing on-screen while reading is actually much more efficient. It’s because as I read out loud I hear the sound of the sentence, its inner structural rhythm (or arhythmia), and have the words reverberating as I edit. If you edit on paper and then make the changes later, you can’t hear the words so clearly. The memory is weaker. It’s no longer an echo.
Kate Kiefer Lee says it helps her sound like a human. I’d go further. It helps you hear who you are as that human. Perhaps that’s especially because at the moment I’m writing creative non-fiction, and it’s autobiographical, and so I’m listening to myself tell myself who I was when I made certain decisions in the past, and who I am now reflecting upon it.
Perhaps this is also how therapy, especially ‘the talking cure’ of psychoanalysis works. So many of us interior people have narratives of who we are and what we can achieve (or can’t) running around in our heads. Perhaps hearing the actual words, rather than thinking them, changes their energy, their hold over us. And if it does that for us, it does it for our characters too, for our writing. When our characters are us, it changes us. (for simple things: winning gold medals; more complex achievements: peace of mind).
Writing is a formulation of the imagination. Reading that writing out loud tests the imagination in the crucible of the real world. It makes me think of Marion Milner’s hypotheses in On Not Being Able to Paint, regarding those who are best able to bridge the gap between inner imagination and outward reality, to create things we are happy with, proud of. Those of us who can manage and live with the chaos and the fear of never producing in reality what we can imagine, will always produce more, and better, than those who cannot handle those fears.
Perhaps reading work out loud, hearing one’s voice, listening to your own imagination as it is read back to you, is part of that bridging process. (I wonder how many of us do this for our blog posts?!)