Jay Lake: Writer

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[process] Listening to the book

As recently discussed [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ], I have added a step to my novel manuscript revision process. I know from experience that reading a manuscript aloud always helps me find copy editing errors, infelicitous wording, word echoes and so forth. But I also dislike reading aloud at length, and especially all by myself.

The tension between knowing what was right and being pretty strongly avoidant about it was troubling. Something had to change. After much dithering, I finally had the MacBook Air read me the entire book aloud, using the GhostReader application, as recommend by commentor rip.

The voice in GhostReader is functional but primitive. It took me a little while to get used to the flattened, mechanical tones. Then I experimented with the reading speed to see how fast I could set the playback and still be able to make notes without having to pause the application.

What I did then was open GhostReader in one window and the Word document of the manuscript of Calamity of So Long a Life in another window. I simply listened, and whenever something struck me as wrong or off, inserted [brackets] in the text. Occasionally, if the fix was very easy, like a missing simple word, I would just make the correction on the fly. I didn’t try to sort out the larger issues, just marked them for later read through.

While I suspect that reading the whole manuscript aloud would have been more effective, I think I got 80% of the value of the readaloud by listening to GhostReader without wearing out either my voice or my patience. Also, this meant I could work on the book in public spaces and on airplanes without looking like a crazy person. Even coffee shops, despite what [info]scalzi says about that.

One of the minor problems of the process was when I went back through the manuscript, sometimes I’d have trouble figuring out why I marked a section. The answer to that, of course, was just to read it aloud to myself. Another minor problem was sometimes I’d go on a word hunt when I’d realized I’d used a crutch word, and then hit that point of neural fatigue where the word became a meaningless string of letters and stopped making sense in situ.

I’m extremely pleased with this outcome. GhostReader (or some equivalent) will be an important part of my writing from now on. It adds a layer of time and attention to my revision process, but that layer is worth a great deal more than it costs me. If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend trying it out.

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