Saturday, March 10, 2018

Listen for What You Want the Reader to Hear

If you're certain one more post about self-editing will make you a bit bug-eyed and crazy, stop reading. On the other hand, you might want to start listening, although I don't necessarily mean listening to me.   

Recently, a speaker hired someone to transcribe audio recordings of her recent engagements, and then she hired me to edit the transcripts. 

In some places, what the speaker supposedly said made little sense, so I assumed the transcriber had either misheard or made what seemed like a strange guess. In other places, question marks indicated the transcriber gave up trying to understand what had been said. 

To do this job, I had to listen to the audio myself. That made all the difference between just reading the transcript and hearing what the speaker expected her reading audience to hear. I suspect English isn't this transcriptionist’s first language, and that's okay. But for instance, “copy and paste” became “cut a piece,” and “pace yourself” rather humorously became “paste yourself.” 


English is the first and perhaps only language for the authors I work with. Sometimes, though, I don’t understand what they’re trying to say. After some thought and digging into context, I can usually determine what the author probably means to say, but that’s not what the words convey.
I don't care who we are as writers, transcribing exactly what we mean to covey from our brains to the page every time is a challenge.
“The pit in my stomach expanded with fear,” a writer might write. Mmm. You can feel the effects of fear in the pit of your stomach, but unless you’ve swallowed an actual pit, you won’t have one expanding there no matter how scared you are. A sentence like that can sound almost right at first, but when you really listen to it, you know it's not. (Again, no shame here. It happens!)

Or sometimes a single word is off. Did the author mean to say “she felt down the fire escape in the dark” or “she fell down the fire escape in the dark," and right at the end of a cliffhanger too? Was she one of the most adept criminals to ever make a getaway? Or did she trip and plunge to the ground below? 

Someone's got to question what could be missteps, and maybe it should be us writers first.

Consider going off somewhere alone, with coffee, chocolate, or whatever it takes, for one more read-aloud, self-editing pass of your work. Listen to specifically catch what might cause a reader to guess what you meant, give up on guessing what you meant, or hear what you never meant. (If you have time, you might want to record yourself reading, and then listen to the audio later.)  

But don’t, I repeat don't, make yourself bug-eyed and crazy! I don't want to be responsible for that.

Jean Kavich Bloom is a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries (Bloom in Words Editorial Services), with thirty years of experience in the book publishing world. Her personal blog is Bloom in Words too, where she sometimes posts articles about the writing life. She is also a regular contributor to The Glorious Table, a blog for women of all ages. Her published books are Bible Promises for God's Precious Princess and Bible Promises for God's Treasured Boy. She and her husband, Cal, have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren, with foster grandchildren in their lives on a regular basis.

Photo credits:;


  1. I know it takes time, but reading my work aloud has been extremely helpful for me, especially if I wait at least twenty-four hours so I've given all those words some distance from my short-term memory.

  2. This reading what you have written aloud works wonders. My boss asks me to read emails we are composing together out loud. Sometimes I catch mistakes I never saw on the screen this way, other times I realize just how awkward something sounds.

    Thanks for the humorous reminder. Sometimes your computer and read the text to you which might also be helpful. I have no idea how to make it do this, but have heard it can be done. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Reading aloud is a terrific tool for me. You are so right about the phrasing being important. I never realized how certain phrases were actually specific only to my area and not used by every American. Eye-opening and Ear-opening.