Music and Writing–It's All About "Hearing"

I love reading. What excitement fills young readers when they can point to a word and actually read it. Children learn to speak before learning to read. Our ears and our tongues are uniquely tuned to each other. We hear, then we learn to speak the words.

Have you ever watched a small child with a toy piano? They plunk and plunk and smile at being able to create music. The same is true of reading. Before learning how letters form words, they pretend to read what is nothing more than foreign characters on a page. Then they go to school and soon fingers scan each word, sounding them out, and then pronouncing them. As they become more proficient, they begin to read silently. Soon eyes scan the words while the mind processes them, completely by-passing speech.

As writers, this can be a big problem when it comes to editing. We write the words using our hands and our brain. When we’re finished, we print the pages and then read them like we would any book. The problem is, our brains have a way of adding missing words and overlooking misspelled words. We might even miss grammar mistakes.

Reading your work aloud is an essential editing tool. When your work is read aloud, you’ll hear things you never do by reading with your eyes only.  Your ears will let you know when you hear awkward sentence structures. If you pause when there is no comma, perhaps there should be one in that spot. When you read out loud, you will hear every word. It’s easier to spot repetition of words and of sentence structure and length. For me, it’s difficult to know when to write the heroine’s name and when to write she or her, but when read aloud, the cadence lets me know which word to use.

But, let’s face it. Most of us fear reading our words out loud for fear of someone walking in on us. We’re already considered eccentric and more than a little bit weird. I’ve tried reading out loud when my husband is gone, but he manages to return when I’m really getting into it, and I find myself lowering my voice, then whispering, and finally, reverting to using my eyes only. So, what can a writer do?

I have a friend who is blind, yet she writes and corresponds online. No one would know she is sight-impaired. She uses a voice-to-text technology. And in order to “read”, she uses text-to-voice technology. This inspired me to look into software which would allow me to “hear” my book. In searching the internet, I found quite a few free software programs and others for a small purchase price. Some computers come loaded with this software. Mine didn’t, so I downloaded one to try. The free voices were not pleasing to my ear. Some words were hard to hear. Some voices sounded like the computer generated national weather alerts. So, I paid a small price and downloaded better voices. I was able to listen to the voices before I made my choice. At first, the words sound a bit stilted, and the inflection isn’t perfect. But, I really did catch problems I’d missed with my “eyes only” editing. This works for me when all else fails.

I highly recommend every author find a way of reading their work out loud, whether it be by having someone else read it to you, through software, or walking into a cave to be alone. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you will find errors you didn’t know existed, and ways to tighten, enhance, and make your manuscript the best it can be.

Just as a musician writes down the notes and then plays them to hear the result, a writer needs to do the same. It’s all about getting the perfect blending of notes or words. Give it a try. Trust me, you’ll “hear” when get it right.

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