I’m at that point in working on a new book when I ask my wife if I can read the manuscript to her. This is not a casual moment. Aside from being very smart, my wife is patient. But there are only so many times I can ask her to listen to an entire text. She heard this book—a first draft—during the past summer.
While she knows what I am writing about, I won’t discuss the book while it is in progress. I do this for two reasons: I don’t want to commit myself to a certain line of work. And, knowing I will share the book with her I would like her to come to it with an open mind.
I want her response for good reasons. She is a passionate reader whose consumption of books—non-fiction and fiction—quite out-distances me. Most importantly, when she hears a new book of mine she offers unvarnished critiques. Such as:
“Your editor won’t like this.”
And a few times she’s fallen asleep, the most powerful criticism of all.
But let me hasten to say her responses have been positive far more often than not, which is always a great relief to me.
All that said there is another major reason why I share the book with her. When I read aloud all kinds of things happen because there is—for me a change. I go from seeing the text to hearing the text. That is, I turn from being a writer to becoming a reader. What is the result?
The following are in no particular order:
I notice word repetitions.
I catch poor sentence structure.
I catch plot repetitions.
I see illogical moments.
I catch punctuation errors.
I note spelling and grammar glitches.
More than anything I note omissions in the storyline and character development.
When I do my reading I have a pen in hand and I either make quick changes or put an X in the margin. When I return to my computer and work through my notes, that X alerts me to the fact that I have to work on this section.
These readings never fail to help me write a better book.
(I once read that Madeleine L’Engle [A Wrinkle in Time] had her husband—who was an actor—read her manuscripts to her. I don’t have that courage.)
As I’ve noted many times in this space my mantra is, “Writers don’t write writing. They write reading.”
Reading aloud is one way I focus on the reading.
What was my wife’s response when I read the new book to her?
“It’s good. Much better. I like it.”
Next stop: my editor.
Then, reader, you.