The Writer’s Toolbox – The Ears Have It

You’ve been through that essay?or novel’so many times that your eyes start to glaze over in the first paragraph. Now It’s time for the final read-through, and You’re sure there are typos you’ll catch?or you would catch, if you weren’t so burned out. So where can you turn if you can’t trust your own eyes?

Your ears.

There are a lot of methods proofreaders use?like reading text from back to front?but that doesn’t always work, especially if You’re not just looking for typos and stray marks but also need to make sure the structure of a particular sentence is on target, or that you didn’t inadvertently omit a word here or there. That’s where the ears become one of the most valuable pieces in your editing toolbox.

Read aloud
Reading aloud isn’t just for parents and little kids. In fact, writing and editing professionals use it all the time as a way of taking in text from a different perspective. It forces you to slow your reading down, making it more likely you’ll spot errors, and it allows you to stand a little more firmly in your readers’s shoes?something That’s not always easy to do when You’re breezing through something you’ve read dozens of times already.

It’s normal to feel a little silly or awkward when You’re reading your own work aloud the first time, but after a while you’ll wonder why you ever hesitated. Just remember to really speak out loud, and don’t be afraid to use your outside voice?muttering words increases your reading speed and can cause you to miss errors you’d have otherwise caught.

If You’re working on a really long piece, especially fiction, you can try varying your voice to keep your attention from slipping. If you’ve ever wanted to perfect your British accent, now is the time?just don’t get too carried away with the acting! The goal is to make yourself enunciate the words You’re saying.

Be a good listener
An alternative way of using your ears to edit your work is to get someone to read aloud to you. This can be a person?but it can just as easily be your computer, your smart phone, or your tablet. There are dozens of apps and software programs that either read basic text aloud (Kindle has this option) or allow you to not just listen but also follow along with a cursor in the text. I use NaturalReader for my editing (there’s a free version available), but there are many other helpful programs out there.

The disadvantage of being read to is the opportunity for distraction, so make sure the voice is set to a slow enough speed that You’re forced to stay on track. I find that plugging into earphones helps me focus, as does assuming a slightly more uncomfortable position?lying on the couch would be great, but getting too casual makes it less likely I’ll give the text the attention it needs.

Next time You’re in the final self-editing stage, let your ears take some of the burden. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes!

Christina M. Frey is a book editor, literary coach, and lover of great writing. For more tips and techniques for your toolbox, follow her on Twitter (@turntopage2) or visit her blog.

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