Over the weekend, my husband took me on a mystery day trip. He had come up with the idea on Friday evening, and by Saturday morning and he still hadn’t told me where we were going, which is a pretty amazing feat for him – he’s terrible at keeping secrets.
“Should I just tell you?” he asked as we got in the car.
“No. Surprise me!”
In order to distract him from the temptation of spilling the beans, I read to him from one of my novels. I’d been revising and editing it for the past few months, and just recently I had spent a full day giving the entire manuscript a final read-through. I had pronounced it completely finished and ready to send out to agents. Paul had read an early draft two years ago, but he’d expressed interest in reading it again, now, in it’s final form. This was the perfect opportunity. He drove, and I read.
And as I read, I noticed little things that needed to be changed. I was amazed, and slightly annoyed. I had literally just read the entire book and thought it was Finished with a capital “F,” but now I noticed missing periods, sentences that didn’t sound quite right, and even a few darlings that still needed to be killed.
We had been driving for nearly an hour, and we’d just driven over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge onto the eastern shore of Maryland. “Do you want me to keep reading?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Paul said. So I did.
* * *
I know that I’m supposed to read my manuscripts out loud before I submit them anywhere. I know that. And yet, I never do it. It’s time consuming to read an entire novel out loud, and it makes my mouth dry. Besides, I feel silly reading out loud to myself. I always figure a close, silent read is good enough.
But apparently it’s not.
When we read silently, especially our own words, we are likely to see what we expect to be there. Reading out loud forces us to slow down and see what is actually on the page. Not to mention, it helps us realize if dialogue is stilted or if sentences don’t quite sound right. Really, there’s nothing quite like reading your manuscript out loud when it comes to fine-tune editing. It’s time I stopped taking the short cut and started reading my work out loud.
As I was reading, I got distracted by a large hawk soaring alongside the highway. “Ooh, look at that raptor,” I said.
“You like that bird, babe?” Paul asked. “Well, guess where we’re going!” And then he could hold in the secret no longer.
Turns out, we were going to the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on the Delaware Bay. Talk about birds. Not only is Prime Hook home to cool birds like blue herons, snowy egrets, eagles, and hawks, it is also the premier rest stop for pretty much all of the migratory birds in the western hemisphere. In fact, according to a poster I read in the Visitor Center, on any given day in the month of April, eighty percent of the migratory birds in the Americas can be found hanging out at Prime Hook.
Even though we weren’t there in prime season, and even though it was close to freezing temperatures outside, there were still a dang lot of birds. Paul and I hiked the trails and gawked at the enormous numbers of darting swallows and chattering blackbirds and flocks of water fowl. After a while we turned away from the beach and onto a trail through the forest. Suddenly, we heard a faint pattering sound.
“What’s that noise?” I asked. We stopped to listen.
“I think it’s the sound of the trees growing,” Paul said.
“No,” I scoffed. “Maybe it’s the sound of inchworm poop.” (See my post about that here.)
The noise grew louder. It sounded like something was hitting the trees. Just then something bounced off of Pauls’ jacket. It was a pellet of ice. Then one hit me in the face. “Oh, it’s hailing,” I said. “I guess that’s what we were hearing.” We felt a little silly.
The hail turned to icy snow, and we hurried back to the car and started our drive home. “I can’t believe you thought the hail was the sound of trees growing,” I teased Paul.
“I can’t believe you thought it was inchworm poop.”
“Should I read more of my novel?” I asked. “It’s actually really helpful – I’m finding all sorts of little things I want to change.”
“Yeah, keep reading,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”
So I did. I’m realizing how important it is to listen to the sound of my own words. And reading out loud to Paul is much more fun then reading out loud to myself. It really helped to have a willing pair of ears to listen. And it helped to have a three-hour drive back home, with nothing else better to do.