Just thought I'd take a step back from all things London or English and share a revelation with you this week. A revelation to me anyway. We all know how important rewriting and revision is to the writing process. Some would claim it's the most important part. It is for someone like me, who finds it quite easy to get words down on the page - I can write upwards of 10,000 words a week given a prevailing wind - but often finds those words are bad ones. I don't let it worry me and plough on, knowing that when it comes to the second and third drafts, or more, the bad words will be weeded out and the right ones chosen. Or, at least, at the end the good will outweigh the bad.
However, I've had to work differently on my current book (being written under a pseudonym, to be released next Spring, and at the moment I can't tell you more, though in the future I hope to). The publishers would like to take a few sample chapters to the London Book Fair, which takes place next month, to lure the interest of some foreign publishers. This means for the first time I've been editing as I go along. I can see why I haven't done it before. It's tortuous, and makes for pretty slow going. Or at least it was. That's when I had my revelation.
I started reading what I had written out loud. As if I was sat in a bookshop giving a reading (the equivalent of strumming a tennis racquet and pretending I was on stage at the Astoria when I was young, though not as fun). I've only ever given one reading and it wasn't that enjoyable an experience. I'm no actor. Funnily enough, give me a talk to give, some outline notes, and I can be as fluent as they come. Hand me something to read and I become stilted and tongue-tied. I could make Chandler sound banal and awkward. I don't think I'm alone. I remember listening to Mark Billingham and Ann Cleeves read their work at Harrogate last summer. On the page, for my money, Cleeves' was the better written passage. Read out loud, Billingham's sounded far superior. He's a stand up comic, learned in the art of performance; she isn't. It showed.
But, in my office, reading to my imaginary and very sympathetic audience, and not having drunk seven glasses of cheap 'Book Launch' red to calm my nerves, I've discovered a fluency. I've also discovered a great way to improve my writing. Before, digesting silently a page full of words, I found it quite easy to convince myself a phrase or a word was right. Reading out loud, there is no doubt when you come across something clunky or asinine or plain wrong, and are compelled to put it right. It has given me more awareness of the pace, rhythm and tone of my writing. I have a better idea of tension, how it builds and sags. Dialogue, in particular, becomes much sharper when you give it a real voice. In my head, it's acted like Cary and Katherine at their wisest and wittiest; after all, the best actors can make the dullest words shine. I'm more Ulysses Grant than Cary, so when I read it out loud all the imperfections and awkwardness are exaggerated. Again, there is no place to hide
Now I'm sure there'll be those of you out there who will be thinking, 'Yeah Dan, like, duh! We've been doing that for years Einstein.' (See? Told you it got sharper...) I'm sure many writers read their stuff out loud, and now I can see why. Plus I can get a sense of how long the podcast of my novel will be.