Writing Secrets: How to judge your own writing

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

We don’t always have another willing eye to judge our writing dispassionately.

It’s a big ask. Your friends will hate you for it, and your partner is usually the wrong person altogether. A partner cares about you – and so can be fearful for you, or over-sensitive about possible future criticism. They can be thin-skinned about themselves: “Is that partner in the book based on me? Is that how you see me?”

Oops. Get out of that one, if you can.

Still, you’re not yet at the stage of needing a truly impartial reader, but you need an eye which doesn’t look with devotion on every darling word.

So here’s an idea: read it aloud. Record yourself reading it aloud. Pretend you are creating the audio version of your book.

We have always advised that dialogue be read aloud. It’s a great way to see whether it sounds realistic. But actually, why not take it further? Reading your entire work aloud forces you to listen to it in an entirely different way.

I received two confirmations of this recently – one from a mentoring participant who has just completed a manuscript:

“When I finished my first draft, I printed it out. Then I read it aloud to myself page by page. You’ve no idea how much I picked up that way – things which hadn’t even occurred to me when I read it through before.”

Then I came upon this article in the New Yorker, by writer, Roxana Robinson, who was describing how it felt to read her novel Dawson’s Fall for its audio release:

As I read, I see how imperfect the writing is. Why did I use that phrase? I’m sure I had something better in an earlier draft. Is this shift made clear to the reader? Why is this so clumsy? I can’t change anything, though; the engineer is listening to every word. If I say something that’s not there, he asks me to start the sentence again.

When I was writing this book, I used only my mind, finding the words to tell the story of these characters. Now I’m using my heart and breath to tell their feelings.

Hour after hour, I slide my finger down the screen, drawing the words up from the darkness. I speak them aloud. They move through my mind and then my body, through my throat and chest, then out into the world. I wonder what you will think.

Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: A brief introduction to the short story

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