Shout, Shout, Let It All Out―Or Just Mutter Under Your Breath (Editing Life Hack)

Reading aloud. Why don’t we all do this? It’s not a rhetorical question, I seriously want to know why every writer doesn’t use this life hack ALL THE TIME.

Editing is a resource intensive task, drawing on attention, concentration, and higher cognition in order to both assess content and, hopefully, identify errors (typographical, grammatical, and otherwise…ical). For those who spend a large portion of their time reading the written word―i.e. WRITERS―our brains have a tendency to engage in some proactive problem solving. In short, when reading your brain will automatically correct mistakes, often without the mistake even registering in your conscious thought. Psychological studies have found that the propensity for this even extends to words where only the first and last letters are in the correct places. That is a serious error, but our bniars hdanle it sotohmly. Most of the time.

While editing, since your mind is attempting to process a large amount of information, this cognitive autocorrect can easily run parallel in the background leaving you with a beautiful manuscript dotted with the occasional ghastly typo.

We’ve all been there. Don’t tell me you haven’t, I won’t believe you.

What can we do about this? A few options:

  • Use spellcheck/autocorrect
  • Openly weep
  • Contract a professional editor to read everything we write
  • Create a pact with an editing spirit
  • Read aloud

Let’s go through these, shall we?

Use Spellcheck/Autocorrect

This can definitely help find those typos and correct them. We all know the sweet, lingering touch of the red squiggly line telling us that we made a mistake. Kinda like a much more subtle version of the mistake opera singer from Scrubs.

There are, unfortunately, 2 problems with this plan. First, it doesn’t always catch errors. Such programs are frequently confused by homonyms, homophones, similar spellings, or anything that is not a commonly used word/phrasing. Just look at the blight of “definitely” vs. “defiantly” in the world today!


It’s defiantly a problem.
JOKES!

Second, spellcheck dependency is a thing. As a professional managing editor, I’ve seen it and had to find ways to break writers of it. It’s so easy to rely on spellcheck to fix all the problems, but it’s not infallible. Those who treat it like it is can find their own copy editing skills have atrophied in the interim, to the detriment of their own writing abilities (see Being a Good Writer Means Being a Good Editor for more on that connection).

As a piece of a greater editing strategy, spellcheck is neat. Not by itself.

Openly Weep

I respect anyone who chooses to go with this option. But afterward, please move on to something more constructive.

Contract a Professional Editor

I mean, yeah, this would help. But who has the money to do this for everything they write?! And it brings us right back to dependency and atrophied skills again. Not a good place.

Like spellcheck, this is a tool that can (and should) be utilized when appropriate.

Create a Pact with an Editing Spirit

These are not things. Don’t try this. It’s probably a poltergeist or Slimer or Loki messing with you. Next thing you know, your manuscript will be about the flopping patterns of the midwestern perch.

Read Aloud

Now here is a tactic. It’s really simple, but I’ll carefully explain it for you:

  • Step 1: Take writing
  • Step 2: Read writing out loud
  • Step 3: Find mistakes you likely would have otherwise missed
  • Step 4: Become most famous writer ever because your pieces are SO clean

Minus the last step, that’s exactly how this works and what it does. Your mind processes writing differently when you read it aloud, as it’s forced to pay greater attention to each word. Why? Because it needs to read and know how they sound. This serves the purpose, first, of catching those little cognitive autocorrects since your mouth will often stumble where silent reading wouldn’t. And second, you’ll also be better able to recognize the areas of awkwardness in phrasing. Phrases that “sound” fine in your head may actually sound dumb aloud.

And it’s all just a part of how your brain processes language vocal language. Isn’t that fun?

Now, you don’t need to yell as you read, though you can. You don’t even need to read in a full voice. Heck, you can just consciously mouth each word and still get most of the benefit.

PLUS PEOPLE WILL THINK YOU’RE REALLY WEIRD OR CASTING SPELLS UNDER YOUR BREATH!

Those are things you want people to think of you, right?

Yeah, of course they are.

See you next time!

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