by Ken Walker
For me, one of several casualties of the Great Recession was an annual trip to Atlanta, hosted by a missions agency that downsized me in 2011. I especially enjoyed the give-and-take with writers from around the nation and personnel there.
It was on my next-to-last trip that I gleaned a number of insights that still help guide my writing and editing. Ironically, this informal, one-hour conference wasn’t even on the schedule; the editor who led it offered it as an optional session for those who weren’t involved in writing a particular piece of curriculum.
I took notes that afternoon and pasted them on my office wall as reminders. Tips like nudging reluctant interview subjects by asking questions about their favorite subject: themselves and their hopes, children, jobs, or aspirations.
Another was imparting principles by focusing on the takeaway value. Namely, what readers could do with the information, how they could participate, and how they would be moved to action once they finished.
Writing & Editing Principles
The principle that most helped regarded good writing and how it involves active voice, tight sentences, and planned breaks. Though I had heard this before, the conference emphasized the need to leave a first draft alone for three days before going back over it. Thanks to not looking at it for a while, mistakes would become more obvious in the re-editing.
Then came the payoff. I jotted down: “Reading it aloud will also help bring out the flaws. Seeing and hearing the words will help you crystallize the meaning.”
I never knew how much reading copy out loud would help until I started doing it. As a somewhat shy, reserved person, this didn’t come easily. Even today, I find myself occasionally lapsing into silent mode on second or third reviews, including book manuscripts.
The Value of Verbalization
The value of reading out loud is how it makes flubs, awkward phrasing, and strange alliteration more apparent than reviewing with one’s eyes.
Recently, in editing a blog for a client, I had distilled some background information into a list of five qualities that are common to a certain profession. One was “Disciplined: Manages their time, sets benchmarks, and meets quotas.”
As I did my second review, I decided to amend the beginning to: “Knows how to …” But until I read it out loud, I didn’t realize that I had failed to also change all the verbs from plural to singular usage.
Knowing how nuanced writing can be, and that there are no iron-clad guarantees, I can still say with confidence that speaking your drafts out loud will offer similar benefits. I only wish I had discovered it earlier.
Many of you reading this may be extroverts and not have the reticence that sometimes holds me back. No matter what your personality, try reading your next draft aloud. The fumbling phrase, strange-sounding comparison, or humor that seemed funny on paper but falls flat verbally may emerge in a way that a silent review won’t produce.
Experienced. Award-winning. Skilled. For years, Ken Walker has been shaping stories—thousands of them—for books and articles in various venues. He uses his writing and editing talent now to help edit and refine authors’ material, as well as coaching bloggers and other writers on how they can improve their material. In recent years Ken has co-authored or edited more than a dozen health-oriented books. This specialty began with co-authoring Winning the Food Fight, a book that emerged from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, an Emmy-Award-winning mini-series on ABC.