16 Reasons to read your work aloud

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Most writers have learned the importance of reading their words aloud. It’s advice I heeded early on and am happy to pass along.

Writing works on myriad levels. On one level, it’s the mechanical delivery of a story, the typing of words according to rules. It’s fingers on keyboards, reams of paper, and editing drafts. Beneath the surface, writing is meaning-making through narrative, tapping out universal themes and archetypes that existed before man first etched his carvings into cave walls.

As an art form, writing has the ability to transport a reader into another world. We paint with words on the mind’s canvas, compose the music of language, stir smells, tastes, and tactile impressions. The goal is emotional immersion, being present in the experience.

I have an irksome sensitivity to the sounds of words and the rhythm of phrases and sentences. When I search for the right word, it’s not just the meaning I’m chasing. I’m looking for the right number of syllables, the sharpness or softness of the consonants. As I nestle a word into a sentence, I listen for the subtlety of alliteration, a rhythm in the flow of the words that form phrases, phrases into paragraphs.

A story has a natural cadence that arises from sentence structure, word choice, and the balance of narrative, dialog, and exposition. By reading our stories aloud, we’re able to experience that cadence the way our readers do. As part of an editing process, hearing the sounds of our words polishes our work in multiple ways… 16 of them, at least.

Why reading aloud helps us write:

  • Our wondrous human brain expertly and unconsciously corrects and smooths over mistakes. Awesome, but it works against us when writing!
  • On top of that, we are familiar with our work – we’ve written it, edited it, read it, and lived it. We no longer need to read each word to read the sentences.
  • Reading aloud forces our brains to focus. The goal is to slow down, read each word, and hear the writing “fresh.”

Reading aloud is one of the most powerful proofreading techniques around, and reading from a printed copy is even better. It further tricks the brain by changing up the visual (as well as providing room for notes).

So what are all these amazing benefits?

1) Typos, missing and misplaced words: Since our brains automatically correct our mistakes, these small errors can be hard to see. Note that if you find yourself verbally stumbling or reading a sentence twice, there is probably something tripping you up.

2) Punctuation:  Like typos, these errors are easier to catch (especially if you read a printed copy).

3) Repeat words: (Example) The drizzle descended with the clouds. They waited inside the shelter for the drizzle to cease.

4) Repeat gestures: Everyone’s nodding, smiling, or raising an eyebrow.

5) Repeated rhythms in sentence structure: (Example) Biting her nails, she strode to the window. Glancing outside, she saw the carriage approach.

6) Starting sentences the same way: (Example) He fell asleep to the music. He dreamed of her swollen face and the blood in her hair. He reached for her wrist, and he felt no pulse.

7) Stacked prepositional phrases: (Example) He stood in the garage under the fan by the car in his underwear.

8) Repeated information: Telling the reader twice that the character shut the door or was surprised by the phone call.

9) Information you need to reorder: The character reacts to the gunshot before the reader hears it. (Much better the other way around.)

10) Missing information: The character trips over the cat in the bedroom. Fine, except the reader just saw him eating ice cream on the living room couch. When did he go to the bedroom?

11) Overly long and run-on sentences: Look for sentences that are difficult to read in a single breath or that lose their coherence. (Example) Sam galloped to the steps, leaped three at a time, and landed on the mat, but nothing prepared him for the ice that had formed unexpectedly overnight despite the forecast for fair weather, and he fell flat on his back.

12) Inconsistencies: A character wears a green shirt, and a few pages later, the shirt is blue. Or you’ve indicated that the character can’t see because it’s pitch dark, yet you’ve described the room.

13) Dialog: People generally talk with a natural rhythm of sounds and pauses (or not for some characters). When read aloud, stilted language will sound unnatural and tongue twisters will interrupt the flow. Anything that requires a pause for a second read is worth a revision.

14) Transitions: Transitions from one topic or scene to another may happen too abruptly and need smoothing out.

15) Pacing: Reading aloud is particularly helpful in identifying sequences that are racing by too quickly, slogging along, or wallowing in backstory.

16) Tone: Does the tone sound right? Too formal or casual? A book has an overall tone as does each scene and character.

Special Note:

Reading your work aloud doesn’t mean skipping another very important step: listening to your computer read your book to you!

Aside from hiring an editor, this is the best way to “hear” mistakes since a computer will (boringly) read every word exactly as written.

Do you read your work? Has it helped?

Share your tips and insights.

204 thoughts on “16 Reasons to read your work aloud

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  4. I’m new to the blog & there are some great ideas and insights; I keep finding more advice to copy & squirrel away in my Writing Notes! But I do it all on my phone and the last time I turned the reading feature on, it repeated every individual letter I typed! Then it took me a few weeks to figure out how to turn it back off! There’s got to be another way!! I guess I’ll read the other comments, to see if anyone has an alternative. Although, I do editing & proofreading (not professionally) for friends, so I’m pretty good at catching that stuff.

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    • That’s odd. I use my phone to read to me too, not for editing, but just in general. On occasion, instead of saying “I,” it says “capital I,” and I have no idea why. Fortunately, that’s not every time. I hope yo figure out what’s going on because listening to your work is a great tool for proofing. Thanks for the visit and comment, Yeshua. Happy Writing!

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  5. Honestly i never had thought that would be so important, but now it is also a great help for memorizing new vocables, and there are a lot of them. 😉
    Only the speech recognition seldom accepts my pronounciation of English words. Lol
    Thanks for the reminder, Diana! Many thanks for this great explaination of writing, as “painting with words on the mind’s canvas”. Best wishes, Michael

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    • Most phones will read books to you, Michael. The voice is a little flat, but not too bad. I often read along when I’m editing. (I should do this to improve my Spanish!). Language is sound and music, and I think our brains enjoy hearing it. 🙂 Thanks for the visit, my friend. Have a wonderful week.

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  6. Yes, it works pretty well. I use Screen to text on my reader, as well, and I must say I tend to spot quite a few typos in other people’s books as well. You’re right. The computerised voice means it’s more difficult to get lost in the story and follow the natural rhythms of the human voice. Thanks for the advice, Diana.

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    • Thanks for dropping by to read, Olga, and great point about “computer voice” actually helping catch errors because it’s so dull. Lol. I’m glad you’ve found this process beneficial. Happy Writing!

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  9. Fantastic post Diana, and welcome back! You covered all the valuable reasons for reading aloud here succinctly. It’s amazing when we finished editing and run the book through reading aloud how many nitty gritty things we find – especially missing out commas, that can sound like a run-on-sentence when being read aloud. ❤

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  10. I read through my latest book 12 to 15 times after it was “finished” (i.e., not including the reading that happens naturally while writing and live editing). And I was still finding ridiculous errors. So I sent it off to two trusted author-friends. One went through it twice, thoroughly, after which I sent it to the third person, who fastidiously read it. Each person found more errors that needed correcting. Finally, I felt it was ready to publish (which I did on April 22)… and I am still finding stray errors that none of us caught in our collective 18 to 20 read-throughs.

    I am a lifelong writer, grammarian and star speller. I’ve also edited lots of other people’s work. I’m always able to notice issues in others’ work to a far greater degree than I see things in my own. Of course, that is always the case; because, as you essentially say here in this post, Diana, we already know what we meant when we read our own work, and so we see what we meant, not necessarily what we typed.

    However, yes, reading aloud is immensely helpful. In fact, I prefer to read my work aloud to another author or writer, and then to have that author/writer friend read it back to me aloud during different sessions. The editing process of my latest book didn’t allow for this, and I missed that part of my usual process greatly.

    In addition to reading digitally and in print (I always order an author copy before launching, so that I can do just that), I find that changing the font size by degrees also helps me see things I hadn’t before, by virtue of the words moving to different parts of the page each time. And for that same reason, I will read my work on different devices and in different orientations on those devices.

    At the end of the day, however, after having done all that is reasonable to do as far as editing—publish. I am a lifelong perfectionist, and this was hard for me to accept. But many a great book never sees the light of day for fear of the unfound error. I take comfort in the fact that I still catch errors even in the books of well-known authors from huge publishing houses. Writers are human. So do your very best… and then embrace being human as well, and get your work out there.

    P.S. I likely made errors even in this post. And if I did, grate (er… I mean…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad that you find this reading aloud process helpful, Erik, and thanks for reinforcing how changing the visual (as well as auditory) presentation also gives the brain a little nudge. You’re so right that even the major writing houses produce imperfect books. I’ve had the same experience where after multiple proofreads, some errors still go unseen.

      I always end up thinking about our amazing brains, and it’s ability to make corrections without us being aware of it. I learned that our brains don’t actually read whole words – they get an “impression” of the letters and make a judgement call based on the first letter. Isn’t that weird? It’s why we can just pass over errors and not notice them. What other ways do our brains trick us… or think it’s helping when it’s not? Lol.

      Thanks for the great comment and have a wonderful Sunday, my friend. I hope you’re doing well and enjoying life. Hugs.

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  11. Emotional immersion, exactly! You describe the sensation of reading a well-written book so well. These tips are great – I also like the tip at the end about letting the computer software read back to you in a monotone voice, I am for sure trying that 🙂 When you say you have a sensitivity to the natural sounds of words and their cadence in a sentence, my ‘ears’ pricked up. It’s like making music with words, isn’t it. It has to be just so, to create a world a reader can fall into. Fantastic post, I will be saving it as a bookmark for reference!

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    • Thank you so much, Lenora. I am such a sucker for beautiful language. Words are indeed music. You’re absolutely right! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I love your lyrical writing. I know you hear the music too. ❤

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  12. Emotional immersion. That is such the perfect way to describe our goals as writers. Diana, you’ve given us excellent advice. I have read some of my writing aloud before, but seeing the benefits like you have them listed is so helpful. Thank you for sharing such wonderful insights!

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    • Thanks so much for the visit and comment, Mar. I was reading historical fiction this week (not my usual genre choice) and loved it. I realized that it’s not about genre, but about the writing and the way I’m sucked into a story’s emotion. Well crafted writing is so good at doing that. Good for you for reading aloud. Happy Writing!

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  13. Wonderful Diana!
    I agree with all you say. When I do my storied Gowntoons posts, I read those out loud. For what it’s worth, I have written screen plays and a couple of books. I read those out loud. Often during my turtle reading reading of a book someone else wrote, I read out loud. It keeps me attuned to the characters, places and movement of the story.
    A+++++++++++ on this one, Diana! xx

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  14. Great post – analytical and sensitive, explaining so well why reading aloud works.
    I have a fairly crucial problem – disliking the sound of my voice. Very used to sound recordings, interviews, know this is how I sound.
    Schooling crushed all regional accents, all corrected and sanitised.

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    • You are probably way too hard on yourself, Esther. But if you really don’t like to read aloud, have your computer do it for you. I find that very helpful, and computer-voice isn’t that bad. It gets better and better. I’m very used to it now, and even have it read kindle books to me. Thanks for the visit and comment, and Happy Writing!

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  15. This is such a great piece of advice. I love the cadence of sentences, particularly in written conversations, the pauses and the blurts and the tangles of intersections. Lately, I’ve become a great fan of long sentences elegantly stitched, the long-fingered words, the carefully steered dialogue that drives along the cliff but manages to keep between the rockface and the guardrails. I read my work quietly and usually early-early morning, and I don’t think there’s anything more teaching than to hear a cluttered sentence, in time, become a small thing that rings practically perfect, if only to the writer, if only for that moment. Thanks, Diana!

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  16. I’m a slow reader because, as a habit, I pronounce each word in my head. Even so, I do read my work aloud, and it’s amazing what I find to change to ease the flow or enhance dialogue. Great topic to bring up to help those that haven’t used this tool. I also like the list of things to watch for. It’s useful for any type of editing process. Thanks!

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    • Thanks for the visit, Sheri. You’re right that the list includes stuff to watch for in any edit, but those things do jump out at me when I hear them. I feel like I read every word too, but I don’t think I do. Our brains are pretty good at making sense out of bits of information. It’s pretty remarkable. Your writing always sounds wonderful to me, so whatever you’re doing, keep it up!

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  17. I agree with you, Diana. We know our work. We make a lot of assumptions when reading it silently.

    We read aloud in our writing group. We hear each other’s reading and find all kinds of areas on your list needed correction. I always read my work aloud before submitting to the group, but still find many overlooked mistakes. 😉

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    • A great point, Miriam, that reading our work aloud doesn’t catch everything. Our smarty-pants brains still make corrections. That’s one of the reasons why having our computers read to us is such a valuable step. It reads exactly what’s written – the good, the bad, and the ugly! Good for you for taking the step to read your work aloud, and how great that you do so in a group. I can imagine the feedback is invaluable. Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

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    • Thanks so much for the comment, Evelyn. That’s interesting that you go through this process when drafting too. My drafting process is an entirely different slog. Lol. But I love reading aloud when the story is written. It kicks off an entirely new set of revisions and edits. I’m glad you enjoyed the list. Happy Teaching and Happy Writing!

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  18. I do this all the time, it helps a lot. My author group each reads their chapter aloud before editing for each other. Amazing how it helps focus us and brings up all sorts of issues, as outlined above. x Thanks xx

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    • You’re the second person to mention reading aloud to a critique group. I haven’t tried that, Jane. I’m always by myself. I can imagine that it’s a powerful and insightful process. I imagine it adds another layer of information and feedback. Thanks for sharing that. And thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Have an awesome day and Happy Writing!

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      • I was invited to join a group last year and I had never thought about it before. Having always written and submitted to my publisher/agent sight unseen – hubby was my sounding board. But, we meet every two weeks, read a couple of our chapters aloud and then we go around the table with each giving their thoughts on everything from the plot to the grammar, punctuation, and so on. I have found it helpful, although, unlike the others, I am not an editor, journalist, or have degrees in creative writing and I find the restrictions they write under, having a degree, imposes upon writing hard to deal with. I just write. The formal training they have had seems limiting to me. I was told that having different POV in a chapter is no longer done – not since Jane Eyre! I have rarely added POV in the same chapter, but it does hold the flow of a story up. No one has ever picked me up on that before. Of course in my co-written novel each character has a POV and is given a chapter when they tell their tale. But, in real life, more than one person thinks and speaks in the same space (occupying the same time), so I have to make a conscious effort not to allow a character to ‘think’ as they comment. I have learned to stay in the headspace of one character. Hard going. I am adjusting to being scrutinised by successful authors with a background in Literature and editing, but it has jolted my confidence somewhat and I have to think as I write. Have you experiences this?

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      • Oh, yes, Jane. When I wrote my first book, I wanted to share what was inside every character’s head in every scene. My critique group hammered that out of me with a giant cudgel. I resisted and then ended up rewriting the entire book. It was so terribly painful. But once that was done, I found a publisher.

        Now, I’m careful to stay in one pov at a time, and “show” the other characters’ reactions physically (until they get their pov chance to ruminate – if necessary).

        As a reader, I prefer one pov at a time. It lets me get immersed in the character’s voice and experience without having to switch out. We risk disorienting or distancing our readers if we move around too much.

        But no confidence-jolting necessary. We never stop learning this stuff, do we? And we get more skillful with each attempt. There is no perfect writing or perfect book, and its all subjective when it comes to readers anyway, right? I’ve learned that constructive feedback is a huge gift. Let it soak in and then be yourself. It’s your story to tell. ❤

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      • Oh, yes, I got what they meant. I didn’t do it too often but it kinda makes sense. I am an avid reader and I don’t Analyse what I read too much, just enjoy the story. it was an interesting learning curve. Thanks for your lovely reply. Appreciated/ xx

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    • Thanks for dropping by, Toni. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and saw the benefits. As soon as I discovered the benefits of this process, I went back and reread all of my books aloud. It took forever, but was it ever eye-opening! Have a lovely day, my friend, and on to the next book! Ha ha. Happy Writing.

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  19. While I appreciate your post is directed towards writers, Diana, I believe that there is much to be gained from reading aloud in general. Our letters and e-mails would be crisper, more exciting (if I find my letter boring, others will too), and attain a professional level. Words convey symbols, but when they are given voice and breath their beauty flows around me. When I read a passage from a book, my soul is alive with the emotional nuance that comes when words have escaped into the wild. Always a joy to stop by you place!!! Sending hugs!

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    • You demonstrate your love of spoken words all the time, Rebecca, and you do it beautifully. I also love the way you combine imagery, which enhances both. Not to mention the addition of music. The more sensory inputs the deeper the experience for the listener. And reading is sound, even if it’s done silently inside our heads. I notice the impact of reading aloud most often on poetry, especially spoken word poetry. The meaning is transformed when given voice and rhythm. Isn’t this fun? Thanks so much for your visit and lovely comment! I’m sure I’ll be listening to you sometime today. ❤ ❤ Hugs.

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  20. The Adventurer returns! Looking forward to those pics, Diana. 🙂
    As for /this/ post? Brilliant, simply brilliant. I found myself high fiving you at each point. Imho, good prose has a musical quality irrespective of genre. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, yet it speaks to /my/ emotions long before my head knows what the story is about. And it keeps me there, engaged in that world, with those characters, a willing hostage. And you don’t get that unless you read your words out loud, the way a Reader would read them.
    And then there’s the issue of seeing what’s there instead of what we want to see. As a writer, I’ve learned to rely on the sound of my words to cut through my fond expectations. Reading my words aloud helps me translate what I feel about the story into words that convey a similar feel to the Reader…minus the typos and all the other nasties that creep into out work!
    May I suggest that one day you put all your insights about writing into a book? Not as a how-to, but rather as a way to make Writers see their work from the perspective of Readers.

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    • You’re so kind, Andrea. There’s no book in me about this… not at this point anyway. I enjoy sharing it here though. That’s for sure! And I love your comment, btw. Especially your statement about needing to “hear” our work from the perspective of our readers. Because reading isn’t actually silent, is it? It’s words shaped inside our heads, and we hear them even if we don’t speak them. The quality of your prose shows that you don’t skip this part of the process. It’s not only evident in the lack of errors, but it’s there in the flow of your words and the preciseness of your choices. I think it’s why I was such a fan of yours right from the start. So keep up the good work. 😀 Thanks for the visit, and Happy Writing!

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  21. I’ve heard this advice before, but never presented so convincingly. I’ve never read my work aloud or had my computer read it to me, but if I ever write another novel, I will definitely do both. Great post, thanks 🙂

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