Avi WordCraft blog

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.” 

Phew. 

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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