Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Anyone Can Improve His or Her Writing Almost Instantly

By Joanna Campbell Slan

School has started, and your child may be one of many who struggles with written assignments. Or perhaps you, yourself, are going back to school. Or maybe now that your kids are off to classes, you've decided to get down to the business of writing that book you've been meaning to tackle for years.

I've been writing my whole life. In fact, I can't remember a time when I wasn't putting words on paper. I've also taught writing to adults, both college students and professionals. There's one tip I can share that will dramatically improve your writing--anyone's writing--instantly.When I tell people this simple tip, they usually scoff. What a shame, because it's so simple and so incredibly effective:

Read the work out loud.

Do NOT mumble the words. Don't simply move your lips. Actually read it, as if presenting it to an audience. In fact, if you can find another person to listen, so much the better.

As you read, you'll hear glitches in your work. You'll catch the rough spots. You'll notice where phrasing is awkward or where the transition needs help. Mostly, you'll notice words you left out or misused, but duplicated words will also jump out at you.

If you find yourself pausing to "explain" what you wrote, that's a huge red flag.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Huh. Right. Maybe I will and maybe I won't.

But trust me on this, it's the BEST tip I've ever gotten, and it'll improve your work dramatically.

When I was writing Paper, Scissors, Death, I must have read the car chase scene to my son six times. I never made it through to the end. Not the first five times. I'd start reading and realize how wrong my phrasing sounded. Or how lame. Or whatever. So I'd say, "Never mind! Go back to your computer games!" and walk off, back to my own computer, to start over.

You'll probably do the same with your work. But when you finish revising, you'll have a much, much better piece of writing. Trust me on this.

8 comments:

Kimberly said...

While I rarely do this myself, I pass this tip on all the time. I agree that it makes a huge difference.

Barbara Early said...

I had to read what the one tip was! Thanks for sharing.

I might go over a chapter a handful of times, but when I read it to my critique group, I find all kinds of issues. For me it's usually slow pacing, which has me saying,"Wow, sorry it's so boring."

Bette Barr said...

I joined a writers' group and that's what we do at every meeting.....read our works out loud. It does help. In fact, I read my stuff out loud during and after I've written something and it makes a difference!
Thanks for letting me know I am doing something right.
;)

Joanna Slan said...

None of us likes to do it, Kimberly, but it does make a difference.

Joanna Slan said...

See? Now have someone ELSE in your critique group read your work aloud. That's even more surprising because as the author, you know where to put emphasis. I was once in a critique group with an actress. After a while, we wouldn't let her read her stuff--because she acted it out. What we're looking for here is distance.

Joanna Slan said...

Bette, see what I suggested to Barbara about having someone else read your work. By the way, so glad to hear you are continuing with your writing. Good on you, girlfriend.

ghostwriter said...

Be open minded and do some research writing. (just sayin)

Joanna Slan said...

You are right, Ghostwriter. Those are important ways to improve.