Last week, I attended the reception for Think, our college’s journal celebrating critical thinking. All those published were encouraged to come read their essays to the group. I stood up to read mine and immediately noticed two things: One, I was incredibly nervous. Two, I was amazed at how awful my essay sounded in the real world compared to how it had sounded in my head.
It is one of the eternal mysteries of the composing process that what we write can sound so perfect in our heads. Then a week or so later, the paper is handed back, full of red marks and comments. And we realize that we don’t disagree with any of those marks; our essay does suffer from those weaknesses. Grammar errors jump out at us like snakes on the page. The lack of transitions appear like linguistic cliffs that we’ve fallen from. Some of our sentences sound as if we lost control of English for part of the essay. What happened?
As experienced writers often tell beginners, put some distance between yourself and each draft. Then you can go back and look at it with fresh eyes. And that’s great advice. But what if you have procrastinated and your paper’s due tomorrow?
One way to give yourself a fighting chance is to read your paper aloud. There are several ways to do this: You can give a copy to a trusted friend and have him/her mark anything that doesn’t quite work as you read. You can tape yourself. Or you can simply read it out loud in the privacy of your own home. In any case, you’ll hear your mistakes when the words are said out loud.
So next time, make reading the assignment out loud one of your steps. You’ll probably be horrified, but then you’ll make changes for the better.