Writing Advice: Always read your work aloud before submitting

I’m currently finishing the edits to my third Cross book, The Apocalypse Ark, and I realized I never read the book aloud to myself before sending it off to the publisher. How do I know this? Because of all the editor’s notes that say “You just said this in the line above.”

For example:

I woke to find myself in an open grave, my clothes still wet with blood.

“Not again,” I sighed.

I looked up at the edge of the grave and saw a man standing there. No, not a man.

Da Vinci.

“I don’t know what this is about, but I’m sure I can explain,” I said.

Da Vinci rubbed his hands together and grinned. His teeth were like the blades of a saw.

“That’s what you said the last time,” he said.

I sat up and noticed my clothes were still wet with blood. So I hadn’t been dead that long.

“You couldn’t even spring for a coffin?” I asked.

“Coffins are for people, but you’re not a person, are you?” Da Vinci said. He grinned, showing off teeth like the blades of a saw.

“Let’s get on with it then,” I sighed.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little here. Also, Da Vinci isn’t in this book, although I do have plans for him.

It’s not uncommon for things like this to happen as you go through the drafts. When I write my first drafts, I tend to burn through them pretty quickly these days. First drafts are mainly for plot and character — the actual story of the work. My main goal with the first draft is to finish the book, not polish it, so I have something to work with. It’s also important mentally to have a complete book by a certain stage in the writing process, so you don’t fall into the Whirlpool of the Endless Draft. Seriously. That whirlpool really sucks about two years into a book. So my first drafts can be a little sloppy.

In later drafts, I tend to hop around the book working on the parts that need work, or that I feel like working on that day. So I don’t always move through the book in a linear fashion, starting at the beginning and working my way patiently through to the end. In fact, sometimes I resemble a drunken university student who’s just discovered Wikipedia the night before an essay is due: I’m cutting and pasting like mad. So it’s inevitable that mistakes, repeated words and the like creep in. Plus, most writers just have stylistic tics they’re not even aware of — until an editor points them out.

The way to catch all these problems is to read the book aloud. For whatever reason, you can sometimes hear things that you can’t see when you’re staring at the words. So I usually read each book to myself before I send it off to my publisher. Pro tip: Try to do this at home, as you get funny looks on public transit when you do it there, and people tend to hit those security strips. No one appreciates the arts anymore.

I realized I’d never done this with The Apocalypse Ark, so it was a bit embarrassing to get the edits back and find all these basic beginner problems. I’m going to blame my children, because what’s the point of having children if you can’t blame them for everything that goes wrong in your life? And I’m pretty sure that for every time Cross sighs in the book, I’ve sighed at my kids in real life.

In a way, it’s turned into a valuable lesson for me. It’s not only a reminder to be more diligent in my editing, but it’s also highlighted some of my writing tics for me. That’s just good stuff to know at any point in the writing process.

Also, now I’m kind of wondering how and why Da Vinci threw Cross into an open grave. Hmm….

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About Peter Darbyshire (Roman)

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Posted on October 5, 2015, in The Writing Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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