The hardest aspect of editing for me is reading what is actually on the page, not what I think I wrote on the page.
We all do this; when reading back over a draft you miss those places where you accidentally typed a word twice, had an incomplete thought, or misspelled a word. You are just reading what you want it to say because you are intimately familiar with the story, and unable to see it with a fresh eye at times, no matter how hard you try or how long you put it on the shelf.
The best solution I have found so far for this is the text to speech tool built into most computers.
The text to speech tool, or any other type of screen reading tool will read the text back to you.
- An outside perspective on your own prose: Hearing your story read aloud, from someone other than that little voice inside your head, gives you “helicopter perspective”; you can see the bigger picture.
- Nixing minor mistakes: Using this tool early on will eliminate minor mistakes, that way when you revise the entire manuscript you can focus solely on improving the story, not getting sidetracked with typos.
- Living your story: I think it is safe to say most writers are readers, and for a reader, the thrill of losing yourself in a story is exhilarating! Having your own story narrated to you will give you the experience a reader might have, and putting yourself in your audience’s shoes is always a good strategy for success no matter what genre you write.
How I use this tip: On my computer, after I finish writing a chapter, I go paragraph by paragraph with the text to speech tool and listen to the voice read my prose back to me. After the first draft of the manuscript is complete, I go page by page to make sure the story flows and catch any plot holes or lingering typos from my revisions. And just when I think I have the final, ready to send to agents and publishers, version I go chapter by chapter to ensure the story is solid.
Below are instructions for using the text-to-speech tools on OSX and Windows computers.
- Open your Systems Preferences.
- Click Dictation & Speech.
- At the top of the window, make sure you are on the Text to Speech settings.
- From here you can set or see the keyboard shortcut for initiating the voice. My keyboard shortcut is Command+Shift+T. You can also make settings to:
- The System Voice: Choose from male or female voices, and voices with different accents–whatever sets the mood for your story or speaks the clearest. You can also find other voices to install online.
- The Speaking Rate: Choose how rapidly you want the voice to read.
- To use Text to Speech online or in a document, highlight the portion of text you would like read aloud and use your keyboard shortcut.
- NOTE: The more text you highlight the longer it might take for the Text to Speech tool to initialize (i.e., do not highlight your 100K+ novel unless you’re planning on growing your beard out–I’ve been there, and I didn’t like having a beard). I find it best to do a couple of paragraphs at a time that way I can stop in between and edit them.
I’m sorry the Windows instructions are a little sparse, but I’m a Mac owner so I’m just going off of instructions I found online: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/hear-text-read-aloud-narrator#1TC=windows-8
- Open your Settings.
- Click Change PC Settings.
- Click Ease of Access.
- Click Narrator.
- Turn on Narrator by using the slider.
- I am not familiar with how to use Narrator on windows once it is activated, but this at least gives you a starting place.