Here’s my number one, favorite writing tip of all time:
After writing a draft, read your work out loud, to yourself, or to anyone who will listen.
This trick is not only amazingly easy, it’s also amazingly powerful.
If you’ve never tried it before, try it now. Take that sheet of paper you’ve been laboring over, or pull up that document file on your computer, and read, in full voice, starting at the beginning of your writing, and continuing to the end.
Don’t mumble or read silently. Read what you’ve written loudly, and listen. If this is too embarrassing, find a private spot where you would feel more comfortable. Or find an audience (even your pet dog will do).
Reading aloud works so well, I would even recommend repeating the process.
Read Once for Overall Effect
The first time you read your writing aloud, try to get a feel for the overall content and flow of the language:
- Overall: Is this what you were aiming for? If not, where did it get sidetracked?
- Awesomeness: Were there any awesome parts that were especially vivid?
- Epiphanies: Did you think of anything new that could give the writing more impact?
- Omissions: Did you leave anything out?
- Confusion: Does anything seem a little confusing? Can you think of some options for making the writing clearer?
- Order: Does it flow in a logical order, or would it help to rearrange some of the sentences or words?
If you think of some changes, jot a few notes, or mark up the text.
Read a Second Time to Work on Details
Now read your work a second time, taking it a little more slowly.
Try to use the exact punctuation that you see in the writing. In other words, don’t pause until you see a period or comma or semi-colon. Only voice a transition where you see the start of a new sentence, or the beginning of a new paragraph.
As you go along, take the time to work on the details:
- Stumbling Points: Did you stumble over any words? If so, try to figure out what made you stumble, and think of some possible solutions.
- Transitions: Do the ideas shift smoothly? Or do you need to rework transitions to avoid stranding the reader?
- Repetition: Are you hearing the same thing over and over? If so, is there one version that’s best? Could you delete or rewrite the less successful versions?
- Verbosity: Can you delete any unneeded fluff?
- Punctuation: Did the punctuation work the way you expected? If not, can you add or remove punctuation marks to make it work better?
That’s it. The number one trick for improving your own writing is: read it aloud.