Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Editing Tip by Nancy Connally: Recording and Listening–with an addendum for MAC Users

Nancy Connally, a member of Women Writing the West, gives a few editing tips, including her technique of RECORDING AND LISTENING to help with crafting authentic dialogue and editing. --JGR

During many years of editing, I received some fine tips, such as:

- Read a document backwards to catch typos and misspellings.
- Set a manuscript aside and then return to it with fresh eyes.
- Read a manuscript aloud.

Recently, though, a friend mentioned listening to books on tape during her daily commute - and bingo! That's when the idea hit me.

I bought a small tape recorder and those little-bitty tapes, and I started recording my writing. When I listened to the tapes, I immediately noticed any problems with cadence, or confusion about who was doing or saying what, or just plain difficulty in deciphering a sentence.

I particularly like to hear the dialogue because if there’s one thing that will make or break a fiction book when I read it, it’s dialogue. By listening to what is said, I can be sure that each speaker sounds different and true to character.

Now if I can just figure out how the tape recorder makes my accent so disturbingly pronounced . . .


If you have a Mac computer, the computer can read the story back to you. Some unusual words will trip up the computer, and the expression isn't always the best, but it's a great way to hear cadence, too.

Here's how to set up your MAC for storytelling editing:

- Go to System Preferences.
- Select "Speech."
- Select "Text to Speech."
- Select the "System Voice" you like and the "Speaking Rate" you like.
- Click in the small box beside "Speak selected text when the key is pressed."
- Click on "Set Key" and follow the directions.
- Close the System Preferences window.

Now open the document and highlight what you want to hear spoken. Press the keys you selected as the command, and the computer starts reading the text you selected.

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3 Responses »

  1. As writers we are often bombarded by Good Ideas. I like that you chose one, used it, and then did it one better by adding to it with your new technology on the MAC. This kind of innovation is sure to improve your writing.

  2. Nancy,
    I meant to write when you first put this out to WWW, and didn't! I think recording our work is a great idea for editing or getting general feedback. I used to record for my friend who is really into audio and she loved it. Maybe it is time to invest in another recorder! Almost makes me wish I had a MAC.
    Did you see the article in NY Times Books this past Sunday by Haruki Murakami on the impact of jazz on his writing? It is a great piece about rhythm, melody, harmony, improvisation and the "high" of completion. I'll send you the reference if you would like. Arletta

  3. Steffie and Arletta,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Steffie, I like having the Mac read to me when I'm doing something like folding clothes or some other "brainless" activity 🙂

    Please do let me know how I can read the Murakami article, Arletta.

    One of the people who reads and comments on my work in progress for me teaches piano. I always sensed when dialogue didn't sound right. She made me aware that it was often as much a matter of rhythm as of word choice. I've found it's just as important to have different characters speak with different rhythms as it is to vary sentence lengths and structure.

    Ahhh, the "high" of completion of a project. It's great.


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