How to be a Better Writer in the Next Ten Minutes
We did it. We found the perfect story. We sat for hundreds of hours, honed our craft, and came up with what we feel is an amazing novel, story, or scene. But what if it wasn’t that great? What if there was a litmus test we can apply before we hand our baby to its first reader?
There is a great test and it’s underused.
We’ll spend a lifetime working on the finer points of our craft, but this little test takes no additional education, tools, courses, or books. It doesn’t matter what genre you choose, or how long you’ve been writing.
This little test will improve your work at least fifteen percent, immediately — no matter how long you’ve been writing. We all have room to get better.
Read Your Work Aloud.
That’s it. Copywriters and advertisers have used this technique for years, but it isn’t as popular with novelists. No matter where you are in the writing process, listening to your work in your own voice will catch errors, word use, and pacing better than any other first-pass method I’ve found.
This method is great for dialogue. We think we’ve written a realistic conversation between two people until we read aloud. Reading shows us exactly where the dialogue catches and breaks the thought.
Real dialogue is very visual. We don’t over-explain with a lot of detail. We interact with familiar people, in short, half-sentences. Dialogue breaks grammar conventions. Reading aloud helps you hear if your dialogue sounds authentic.
This method is great for missed words and incorrect word usage. We may not catch they’re, there. and their, but when we read aloud these small errors pop off the page.
This method is great for pacing. I’ve developed a small tweak to my writing style to make it my own. When I first started I went too far. My work was very stilted and lacked flow. Although I have a long way to go, reading aloud helped me adjust the pacing. Your voice can’t hide where it gets stuck. When we read to ourselves this isn’t always apparent.
This method is great for over-repetition. We all have our favorite phrases — those go-to one-liners we can’t help but pepper into our writing. There’s a fine line between pepper and fire hose. When you read aloud your favorite phrase will stick out like a nervous parrot.
This method is great for new writers. Does this piece sound like something I’ve read from my favorite author? Does this piece sound like something you’d see in a magazine? Does this piece sound like it was written by a child?
When you read aloud you’ll grow your craft, save yourself from embarrassment, and develop writing that’s more clear, concise, and readable. This test is no substitute for editors and proofreaders and it won’t magically save a bad story.
However, if you want your work to reach more people than your mother, your audience must want to buy it. If you want your audience to buy or consume your work, you’ve got to provide them a story that flows.
Attention spans are shorter than ever.
We’ve got to grab our audience with our work and provide them with an experience that’s worthy of their valuable time. You’ll catch those mistakes you glossed-over a dozen times of silent reading. You’ll improve your pacing and you’ll whittle your dialogue to a level that sounds realistic.
Find a quiet place. Coffee shops are not good for this. People will think you’re crazy.
Read your work aloud. Really out loud, not just moving your lips to silence. When you experience your work with multiple senses, your writing skill will grow immediately.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.