Instant writing tip: read aloud

This seems so basic it’s not worth doing. But it really is worth doing.

So you’ve finished writing something, you’ve tweaked and polished it, you believe it’s ready to go out into the world on its own. Now stop. Take a moment to read it aloud. I can virtually guarantee you’ll notice things you haven’t noticed before, even if you’ve already read it quite closely.

The act of reading aloud forces you to use your speech muscles (obviously), and this forces you to feel the sequence of words and phrases in a physical way. When you read in your head you don’t have to do this. And when you read in your head something you’ve just written, you already subconsciously know how it goes. Your brain doesn’t have to process it from scratch. Your brain is only half paying attention. Which is why reading in your head so often misses problems.

When you read aloud, you physically process the language from scratch. So you start reading it as you would if you’d never seen it before. You get closer, in fact, to the experience of the reader.

That’s hugely valuable. The problem with most writing is that it’s not written with the experience of the reader in mind. It’s more like someone talking to themself. If you’ve ever heard someone talking to themself, you’ll know that it doesn’t make complete sense. They miss out bits of information because they know those bits and don’t need to articulate them. It’s the same thing in bad writing.

Reading out loud draws your attention to problems with rhythm, repetition and the flow of language. It also draws your attention to the sequence of information, and what may be missing.

If you want to supercharge this technique, read it out loud with someone else beside you. Your sensitivity will be doubled.

Of course, reading out loud forces you to slow down too. Not always an easy thing to do when there’s always something else to do, right now. But valuable in its own right.

Try it. You probably won’t want to, but try reading aloud.

(I knew I had to take my own medicine and read this post aloud. But I didn’t want to. Too much else to do. I had to force myself. But when I did, I spotted at least half a dozen things that needed improving.)