Self-editing a novel or story presents challenges for many writers. It is very easy to read past mistakes, especially when you are very familiar with your work. Listening to your work read aloud can help.
Why You Shouldn't Read Your Novel Aloud Yourself
You could read your novel or story aloud yourself to try and catch errors. It can help, but I don't recommend it. There are a couple issues with reading aloud yourself.
- Your familiarity with the story can still lead you to read past errors.
- When you focus on reading the text out loud your attention is split. You're trying read the words and also looking for mistakes. If you're looking for small errors like typos you might miss larger issues such as whether the sentence or paragraph makes sense. Focusing on the story while you read can lead to missing mistakes.
You could also ask someone else to read your story to you. I don't recommend that either. It might be very annoying for your reader if you're having to stop them and ask questions. Plus they're also likely to skip errors, unconsciously make corrections, or focus too much on looking for mistakes.
Fortunately, there is an easier (free) option.
Let Your Computer Read Your Novel to You
Most modern computers, tablets, or phones have text-to-speech options. That is, the device can read selected text to you with a synthesized voice. This key feature for accessibility also turns out especially useful for writers looking to self-edit their work.
- The device reads the text, one word at a time, as it was written. A spell-check won't catch it if you used the wrong word. Grammar checkers, such as Grammarly can prove very useful to highlight text with potential issues. It's another useful tool for writers self-editing. That's still different than your device reading each word of the text.
- The voices available don't sound human. They don't add emotional inflection to the text as they read. This makes it much easier to hear what is actually written.
- Easier to focus your attention. Since you aren't having to read the text, you can focus exclusively on listening for problems.
Since it is likely already available, it's just a question of how to turn it on and use it.
Editing Along With Your Computer's Reading
So how do I use this for editing? I open a Word version of the document, select a section, and click the Read Aloud button. (Check out my notes below for steps to enable text-to-speech options on your device.) I follow along as the computer reads, making corrections as needed. The control bar allows you to pause/play, and change settings, such as voices and playback speed. Do keep in mind that the software may also mispronounce words, particularly those you've made up for your latest alien language!
This still takes focused attention. Take breaks if you think your attention is going to drift from really listening to what the computer is saying. Sometimes you'll find that your eyes scanning the manuscript have skipped right over an issue and the computer's reading will catch your attention. If you need to stop and come back later, just make a note of where you left off.
What Other Self-Editing Tips Do You Have?
Are there other things that you do when editing your manuscripts? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Read on for tips on getting text-to-speech set up on your device.
How to Get Your Windows 10 Computer to Read to You
You have a few different options to get your computer to read documents aloud.
- Read Aloud in Microsoft Word. Add it to the Quick Access toolbar at the top of Word, then just select the text you want it to read and click the button.
- The Narrator (press Windows logo key + Ctrl + Enter to start) provides many accessibility options. To read your manuscript aloud, start Narrator and then press Capslock + M to have the computer begin reading it back. Press ESC when you want it to stop.
Commercial text-to-speech options include programs like Dragon's NaturallySpeaking, NaturalReader, or free programs such as Balabolka. If you want to save audio files you'll want to use software that can create the file. I haven't done that because I'm typically going through the manuscript making corrections as the computer reads. You might also be interested in other software if you want to use text-to-speech in many different applications, or you simply want better voices.
How to Get Your Chromebook to Read to You
Chromebooks have a built-in screen reader and a select-to-speak option. Once enabled in the advanced settings accessibility section, users can hold the search button, select text, and have it read aloud. Another option is using a web-based service such as NaturalReader's online version, where you upload or paste your document.
How to Get Your macOS to Read to You
As with other platforms, macOS offers text-to-speech options under System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech. After enabling the option, select text and use the option+esc key to have it read aloud. Apple users interested in a commercial program may want to look at GhostReader. As a PC user, I lack experience with the macOS. If you do use text-to-speech on an Apple device, please share your experiences in the comments.
How to Get Your Phone or Tablet to Read to You
Just like computers, phones also offer text-to-speech capabilities designed with accessibility in mind (whether that's implemented effectively is another question). On Android, go to Settings > Language & Input > Text to turn on the option. On iOS, Settings > General > Accessibility, Speak Selection.
Talking Back to Your Computer
These days many systems also come with dictation options that you can use to transcribe your words into text on the device. Windows 10 recently added dictation with the fall creators update. Google Drive has a voice typing feature. While Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been the professional tool to use, the widespread integration of these technologies will hopefully spur improvement and use.