[process] On reading a manuscript aloud

There’s an aspect of craft about which I am just a big, giant chicken. See, I know that when I read my work aloud, I find all kinds of minor style and usage issues I want to fix. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve revised and re-read on screen or on a print-out. The aural experience of the story is different. And the ear is very good at finding infelicitations that the eye misses.

But reading aloud is slow. 5,000 – 6,000 words per hour. And I feel like a real idiot reading aloud to myself. Plus my voice gives out fairly quickly. I doubt I could do more than an hour per day. So I often avoid this step in short fiction, and I’ve never once taken it with a novel. Calamity of So Long a Life, for example, is about 130,000 words right now. That’s as much as twenty-six hours of reading. That’s a freaking month of effort at an hour per day.

Except I know that the reward will be a cleaner, smoother, more elegant manuscript, improved in the precise ways that are important to me.

So here we have a behavior that I’m capable of, that will improve a critical process and work product on which I place a very high value, but which I find very frustrating and tedious to actually execute.

By not finding the time to read aloud late draft manuscripts, I’m not doing the very best job I can.

And when I really think about it, this feels like a major failing in me as a writer.

8 thoughts on “[process] On reading a manuscript aloud

  1. rip says:


    I use a text-to-speech engine called “GhostReader” for the Macintosh. It will convert my mss into audio files, that I then play back in the background while Doing Other Things.

    After you’ve trained yourself, it’s amazing how your brain starts screaming at you when it passively notices tyops, grammatical “infelicitations” [ha, great word], etc. I carry a small notepad, and scribble a quick note about where it was, what word or words as an aide to find the location again.


    1. Jay says:

      Thank you. Just downloaded GhostReader, though it may be a few days before I can engage with it.

      1. rip says:

        Glad I could help.

  2. MLR says:

    I recommend reading it with someone. In college my roommate and I would grab a bottle of wine, a good book, and read to each other, alternating chapters. Similarly, when my mom lost her eyesight, I read several novels to her. Surely there is someone who would enjoy luxuriating in story with you. (Just try not to wince when you find an infelicity.)

  3. I also get my computer to read my manuscripts aloud to me.

    The speed is adjustable; I turn it up a tick or two from the default to save time. With a little practice, I may be able to turn it up another tick or two. (I worked with a blind guy who had his computer read him his email via text-to-speech. He could listen to text read aloud at an incredible rate.)

    All the same errors and infelicities of phrasing are detectable in a computer reading as when I read it aloud myself. More, in fact—the computer always reads what I wrote (rather than what I meant to write).

  4. Ken Scholes says:

    And I’ve trained myself to “read aloud” as I go — so whether I’m drafting or revising or even going through copyedits, my eyes are looking for the cadence and rhythm. But I’m also frequently told that I “mumble” as I write…. I think it impacts my drafting speed but it cuts hours out of the back end of my process.

  5. Mike Mullin says:

    I’ve found it hugely helpful. I convinced my wife to read ASHFALL out loud while I drove her to a conference in Pittsburgh. She’s been too busy to re-read the sequel, ASHEN WINTER, so I read that out loud myself over two marathon days recently. If having the computer read to you doesn’t work, maybe you could hire a teenager to read it to you. “It’s just like babysitting, except there are no kids involved and a lot of reading.”

  6. Bellatrix says:

    It looks like you got some good ideas here. So here is one more. Have someone record themselves reading your writing so you can listen to it while editing it. It does take some time but you have a real person’s experience and even a new audio book.
    My roommate and I college would do this and found it worked great even for long anthropological papers with little to no plot.

    Good luck

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