In my earlier posts I may have mentioned that I am an avid audiobook fan. My 35-40 minute daily commute to my day job, coupled with the amazing medium of the audiobook, allows me to double my reading volume. In fact, I usually have three books going at once: a paperback at home, an eBook for lunchtime and breaks, and an audiobook whenever I’m in the car.
What I didn’t realize when I began listening to audiobooks is how the medium would allow me to improve my writing skills. Funny, since I’m actually a visual learner, but there are details that jump out at me when listening to a book—ones not apparent to my eyes on the page.
Our leader, Deborah Gilbert, has numerous times advised all of us Soul Mate authors to read our work out loud as a final proofread. This has proven to be golden advice. But even reading my own work out loud doesn’t highlight as many inconsistencies, flaws, or weak spots as listening to the work with my own ears.
My debut novel came out from SMP last year, and within days I had secured a narrator to produce it through ACX for audio. I’ll never forget the thrill of hearing, for the first time, my story being told in another’s voice. It was thrilling, exhilarating—and sobering. I realized quickly how awkward my phrasing could be at times, and how I over-used favorite words and phrases. How transitions seemed abrupt, or how what seemed like a logical sequence of events in my mind didn’t always translate to a logical flow in the story.
These weren’t necessarily missed copy-edits, or even content edits, but more stylistic flaws that an editor may not pick out. Hearing them out loud, through my car speakers in stereo, highlighted several areas where I found I could improve my work.
My second audiobook was released recently, and although I’ve much improved those initial, “debut author” snafus, I still have much work to do. Listening to more than one of my own books brought to light the fact that:
- My heroines cry too much
- My characters’ smiles “don’t quite reach their eyes” way too often
- My female antagonists all seem to earn the title of Barbie doll.
Yikes. Guess I’ll be combing through my present WIP much more carefully for these very personal, individual writing pitfalls.
Note: you don’t necessarily have to hire a narrator to produce an audiobook to catch these weak spots in your own work. Instead of simply reading my work out loud now, I have started actually recording it—no fancy equipment is needed, as it’s not headed for professional production.
So when you read your work out loud—that last, polished draft before final approval—record it. You can use the mic built into your computer. On my Mac, I use Garageband to produce the recording, then export it to my desktop as an MP3 file.
I either listen with earbuds from my laptop, or, by transferring the file to my iPhone, I can listen on my car’s speakers, the same as I would any other audiobook. I’m not sure what software is available for this purpose on a PC, but I welcome those who know how to make suggestions in comments.
So—here’s my latest tip to raise the quality of your writing: record your books. The spoken words will reveal elements you may miss on the page. You can then go back and tweak your writing style to reflect the story you want to tell in the very best form it can be.
Here’s to using yet another one of our senses to improve our craft—hear hear!