word craft


Reading my manuscript to my wife

Avi and Linda
Avi and Lin­da (pho­to by Kate Milford)

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.” 

“It’s con­fus­ing.” 

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. 

4 thoughts on “Reading my manuscript to my wife”

  1. Oh how I love this. For so many years I read aloud to my stu­dents and read aloud well. Now it is my grand­chil­dren. I learned ear­ly on that it had to be full of life, but not sing-song read­ing. Did you know the famous lit­er­a­cy teacher, Nan­cie Atwell, includ­ed a sim­i­lar phrase in her incred­i­ble book, “In the Mid­dle” : Read­ers read writ­ing, writ­ers write read­ing. It was her way of get­ting her mid­dle school age stu­dents to put voice and inten­tion in their work and to make the idea of an author/writer being con­nect­ed to a human being. And more. The school she built from the pro­ceeds of that top-sell­ing book is in Maine and con­tin­ues her lega­cy of read­ing and writ­ing work­shop, ideas that emanat­ed from Don­ald Graves. And I know for a fact that read­ing aloud any piece I write be it an email, a poem, a com­ment, etc. gets bet­ter from read­ing it aloud. You are right. You see dif­fer­ent­ly. I love how you have explained this, you such a pro­lif­ic, bril­liant and hon­ored writer. Thank you once again for this blog. I enjoy read­ing it as often as I am able.

  2. Your posts are so inspir­ing! They give me great ideas to share with my 3rd grade writ­ers. Thank you!


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