Edit with your ears: the value of hearing your words

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I’ve spent most of the year editing my psychological suspense novel. Initially, this involved improving big-picture aspects of the story—pacing, character development, themes, tense—we’re talking a big structural edit. For the last couple of months, though, I’ve been sweating the small stuff: the line edit and proofreading prior to sending my baby out into the world.

The thing is, if you’re anything like me, by the time you get to these fine edits you’ve read your manuscript so many times you could just about recite it off by heart. And your brain will skim over error after error and clunky sentence after clunky sentence.

Everyone knows that reading your work aloud is an excellent way to proofread. Your ears will pick up nuances that your eyes will skim over. It’s an amazing technique for weeding out unrealistic dialogue in particular.

It is, however, a big commitment when you have an 80K-word manuscript to read. Not to mention impossible to do in polite company. My solution? Use the text-to-speech function on your computer and listen via headphones. I know the robotic voice is a bit hard to take, but these days you can choose different voices and reading speeds to make the computer-generated voice more tolerable. It won’t have the emotion or the rhythm of normal speech, but it is a useful tool if you don’t have the stamina or solitude to read the whole thing yourself. As an added bonus, the computer will read your words exactly as they appear on the page, not autocorrected by a brain that’s read the work too many times already.

The ‘read aloud’ function in Word for Mac. Excerpt from my WIP.

I’m no tech wizard, but on Word for Mac, the text-to-speech button can be found in the ‘review’ tab (see above image), and may need to be enabled in settings (System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech). A quick google search will help you set it up in your word processor program. Alternatively, there are purpose-built apps which perform this function. Even better, find a quiet room and go old school—read your novel out loud, bedtime-story style.

What do you think? Do you read your work aloud to edit?

By Lisa Kenway

Lisa Kenway is an Australian writer and doctor. Her debut psychological thriller, ALL YOU TOOK FROM ME, is coming in August 2024 from Transit Lounge Publishing. An early version was long-listed for the 2020 Richell Prize. A 2023 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre fellow, her work has appeared in Island Online, the Meanjin blog, Meniscus Literary Journal and elsewhere. Find her at www.lisakenway.com or on Twitter @LisaKenway.


  1. You’re right, it is amazing what you ‘hear’ as being not quite right when you read your work out loud. When practising reading an excerpt of a story for a reading, I found several ‘glitches’ and have further edited the story since.
    All the best with your fine-tuning of your manuscript, and for the submitting process too. Hope 2020 is a fabulous year for you in every way! x


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