I have a Mac, with whom I have a love/hate relationship because I like to game and Macs don't. And I refuse to shell out fifty bucks for a simple computer game. No, it's not going to happen. I only spend that much on PS2/3 games.
But I recently found a function on my Mac that's helped immensely with my editing process. I remember reading a post sometime in June where the author stated that she read her entire manuscript aloud while editing to get a feel of what sentences felt clunky and which flowed nicely. While I understand that reading things out loud helps immensely with structural problems and keeps you from rambling on and on and on like Henry James likes to do, I also know that I could never, ever read aloud an entire manuscript. I read fast, so I talk fast too, and I tend to get tongue tied when I'm not paying strict attention to my pacing. I also don't have that much time to dedicate to reading a hundred thousand word manuscript, unfortunately. Reading, yes. Speaking, no.
However, while I was working on my interview with Michelle Fayard, I wanted to make sure that my answers to her questions read correctly and fluidly. So, on a whim, I turned on the speech function for my Mac and listened to 'Vicki' read my answers.
It was magical.
Granted, computer voices are not exactly the nicest thing to listen to, but I found that it really helped me keep my rhythm with the answers, and I was able to know immediately where I had to add and subtract words from my writing. She was also very good at picking up those little grammar mistakes you know you always make but still can't really fix because your brain doesn't pick up on it. Like when 'is' becomes 'if' and 'to the' becomes 'tot he' and your brain just glides right over it like nothing's wrong. Then you post and look back and do your best Darth Vader impression. "Nooooooooooooo..."
But when I listened to Vicki and read along with her, I was able to catch them immediately and spared myself several rereading sessions because she broadcast all of my silly mistakes for the room to hear. So I decided to grab my WIP manuscript (it's still untitled at the moment) and fed Vicki the prologue and a small chunk of Chapter 1.
It was even more magical.
Aside from her picking up missing words and some rhythm problems, there's just something about hearing my work read that was incredible. It felt more real, if that makes sense, as if it's not in my head anymore but out here in the open, with a tangible form. I felt almost blown away.
So based on my reaction to Vicki, I would definitely recommend using a similar function with your writing if you can. It forces you to pay attention, and for anyone who's edited anything knows that after a while, your brain just dies and refuses to do anything helpful. It's also good if you have an hour or so to work without interruption because you can hear the rhythm of your writing and you can hear where it goes off or where it falters a bit. Then you can either fix it by stopping the speech function or mark it to be fixed later. And you can do it in public if you wear headphones.
The only downside to using the speech function is that the computer voice can get very grating after a while, simply because it's not a real human voice and doesn't do cadences right. So where you envision a dramatic pause or heated dialogue, the computer just sees as data and goes on in the same mellow voice it always does. It can be annoying, like when you're on a long trip and the GPS voice is droning and you just want to chuck it right out the window because you suddenly *hate* it. It also doesn't know the difference between the present tense of read and the past tense of read. That was super annoying and confused me for a second before I realized what happened.
But if you take your manuscript and work on pieces of it, like a chapter or two at a time, then you can spare yourself from wanting to smack your computer silly. It might not be the best thing in a time crunch, but if you use the speech function early on, then you have a head's up on the editing process, in my opinion. I know I plan to use it on my early chapters next time I have writer's block so I can still be productive.
UPDATE: Michael Offut had this to say - Interesting way of using Assistive Technology to help with your writing. For your readers, if they would like a similar program that the Mac uses on Windows computers, they can download Read & Write Gold I believe for free. I know it is not as good as Jaws but it should do the job. Also built into Windows 7 and Vista is a speech engine so that if people want to, they can dictate to the computer rather than type.
Also, an announcement: Michelle Fayard of Bird's-eye View has agreed to do an author interview on August 23, so I hope to see you all here! Mark your calendars!
Second announcement: Lev's Flash Fiction Contest is open to votes right now, so go check it out!