In November, while at a writing retreat at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, I took a day to record myself reading my manuscript out loud. It was an idea I got after listening to Lindsey Lee Johnson talk about writing her debut novel go see writers talk about their work in person.)
She mentioned, just off hand, how she had recorded herself reading the manuscript when she thought it was done and ready, and then played it back to take it in aurally. She said that she noticed things in it that she hadn’t before, when she listened to it like that. So I decided to give it a try.
Here’s what I learned.
How to Make an Audio Recording of Your Manuscript
I did a little research on good recording apps and settled on VoiceRecorder. I didn’t need any bells and whistles, just a good, reliable recording device that would allow me to easily back up my files.
I made one recording for each chapter and saved the file as that chapter name (see the image below with the heading “Recordings”). When I got to chapter 10, the app wanted to list it after Chap 1, which kind of messed up my system, so I had to name chapter 10 “Chap 910,” and chapter 11 was “Chap 911.” It’s a little wonky, but I found that when the time came to play it back, things went much smoother. In fact, the app doesn’t so much as click as it transitions between chapters, so when I had everything in order and hit play, it was super easy to listen through.
As for the actual reading, I debated whether to print out my draft, but settled on reading it from the screen. It turned out to be a good choice because I could fix little typos as I came across them, which saved me the hassle of having to go back over a paper draft to make quick and easy edits.
Because I was reading from the screen, I kept my notebook open beside my laptop for bigger notes. I tracked thoughts and ideas as they came to me, organizing them by chapter. When an idea hit (say I realized a continuity issue, or noticed an opportunity to add a detail), I would just hit pause on the app and scribble in my notebook. The app can hold the pause as long as you need, and in the playback it is completely silent. Good for bathroom breaks too.
One thing I learned a little too slowly was that I didn’t need to read loudly. I started as if I were reading to a crowd, nice and clear and strong, and by chapter three my throat was killing me. The mic is super sensitive. You can use a soft, quiet voice and it will pick it up just fine. And I highly recommend having some throat numbing cough drops handy. And tea. Lots of tea. It took me about nine hours to read it through. In hindsight, it might have been better to break this into two days.
When I was done, I backed up the files to my Google Drive, but you can also email them to yourself or upload them to DropBox. Your choice, but backing up just seems the wise thing to do.
Make The Most of Your Playback
I recorded myself reading my manuscript on the last day of my writing retreat. Then I came home to Thanksgiving week and the kids were off school, so I took a week away from it. When it was time to jump back in, I wasn’t sure how best to go about it. I didn’t want to read along, because the whole point was to take in the story as an audio book, but I didn’t want to listen to it while I was walking the dog, because I knew I would want to make notes.
I settled on sitting at my desk. I kept my notebook on my right, and had the manuscript open to the chapter I was listening to, but to keep myself from reading along, I used a coloring book. Yep. I colored.
The kids got me this coloring book for my birthday last year and frankly I hadn’t touched it. I mean, who has time to color? But it was perfect for keeping my hands busy while I listened to my story. And I actually love the pages I worked on. Coloring is fun. I had completely forgotten.
Anyway, I let the recording play through, pausing to make notes as they occurred to me. I broke the task into two days of work.
When I was done, I had three pages of notes to address. Partly, that was a list of words that I felt I used too much (felt, seemed), but mostly it was specific story notes, anywhere from three to nine notes per chapter. Some were simple and others required a little more thinking, but there was nothing dramatic. I finally have a story I’m happy with.
I took the first half of December to make all those edits, then sent the final draft off to a copy editor, because seriously, I can read a typo like fifteen times and not see it. She sent the draft back to me this Monday, so now I’m going through and making final final edits.
And then out it goes… Yikes.
So that’s how I created an audio recording of my manuscript. I will probably never listen to it again, but it was very useful when I needed it.
I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s the little things that make a big difference. These tedious final steps, the ones I’ve been so sorely tempted to skip over, have brought my novel to a place where I feel really good about it. From here, I guess only time will tell.