Tomorrow I receive the copy editor’s version of “The Little Way of Ruthie Leming,” and will make those corrections to the manuscript. This is the last chance I’ll have to change anything before the book goes to print. My editor said while I wait for the copy-edited version, I should read the book aloud, and take notes in case I want to make any changes to phrases that sound clunky.
I thought this would be a tedious exercise, and it kind of is. But man oh man, what a fantastically useful exercise this has been. I’m on chapter five now, and have pages of notes. Julie is listening to me read and making suggestions. It’s a revelation to both of us how much reading aloud changes one’s experience of the written word. My editor told me that many times he’s had writers call him from the recording booth for the audiobook version, begging him to let them change something in the text that didn’t sound right when spoken — but by then it was too late.
I really should be reading aloud more often to my kids. I bet it would make me a better writer.
I am so, so familiar with this manuscript, from having sifted it many times as a writer. And yet, reading it aloud, certain themes become clear to me in ways they weren’t before. It’s uncanny. And I was shocked to have to stop at one point and get a Kleenex, because I had started crying, reading a passage quoting one of Ruthie’s letters to Mike during their courtship. Mike having given me access to all those letters really made this book.
This too is a revelation to me that came from reading it aloud. The book is not quite written in my usual emotionally vivid voice. Under the guidance of my editor, I’ve written the book in an emotionally restrained manner, with simple, declarative sentences, allowing the words and deeds of others to speak for themselves. I’ve worried that the narrative is too plain. That was a mistake on my part. The emotional power of this story carries the day. This is going to be a five-hanky book.