If a robotic voice reads to you, there is no escaping the glitches which will still exist in this draft, no matter how much it was cleaned and tidied during the previous one. Any missed or repeated words, sentimental or graceless phrasing, they will all stand out.
For the third draft of Instructions for the Working Day, I listened to my entire novel, using the Read Aloud option in Word. This voice told me the truth. If I had read it out myself, I would have failed to notice all the sentences with bad rhythm, the dreary sections, the poorly expressed dialogue.
Whenever I heard a problem, I paused the voice and made the necessary corrections, sometimes readdressing the entire scene or chapter.
Here is an invented example of how the flaws might be picked up during this listening draft:
'John used to be a ballet-shoe maker. Now Susan was no longer at home, he thought often of the last on his old workbench, the flour paste, the triangles of burlap that built the toe-box, and the sense of belonging.
People used to light up when he mentioned his job. It seemed quaint, almost whimsical, to them, he supposed. He saw himself as an ordinary artisan, but it put them in mind of The Elves and the Shoemaker. They didn’t realise well-crafted shoes didn’t appear overnight.
John knew how the materials arched and stretched. He understood the unique degrees of flexibility the individual dancers needed. Yes, he talked to his satin and burlap, which probably was a bit fanciful, but each dancer had her own clear-cut requirements and every pair he made was hard, rugged work. Some dancers ordered more than twenty-five pairs at once and some of those would last for one single performance.
He had begun as a young boy in the despatch depot, graduating after years to the bench where he learnt to make soft toes long before he began to master the hard kind, finding his own rhythm step by step. Speed only developed with time. Flawlessness came first.
He never thought about Swans or Nutcrackers. He didn’t know one end of an arabesque from another and was impervious to the gush of compliments from the prima ballerinas. It was not, he was fond of saying, the shoe which created the pointe. Only the dancer could do that.'
Some phrases here struck me as twee, awkward or even misleading—for example, ‘some of those’ in the third paragraph could refer to either the shoes or the dancers.
A few words—'didn’t’/'dancers’/‘used to’—were repeated too soon.
In the second paragraph, I objected to John saying that people ‘didn’t realise’. It made him seem condescending, which was not my intention for this character.
After eliminating the most obvious problems, I rearranged the piece for a smoother flow, better rhythm and greater clarity.
One of the most satisfying alterations I made was to add Susan again at the end. As her departure generated the memories of his old career, perhaps now we understand why:
'John used to be a ballet-shoe maker. People would light up when he mentioned his job. It reminded them of The Elves and the Shoemaker, how the well-crafted shoes appeared overnight.
Now Susan had left, he kept thinking about the wooden last on his worn workbench, the smooth flour paste, the triangles of burlap that built the toe-box, how he'd talk to the satin and hessian as he worked.
He had begun as a young boy in the despatch depot, eventually graduating to the bench, where he learnt to make soft toes long before mastering the hard kind. He gradually developed his own rhythm. Speed increased with time. Flawlessness came first. Over the years he learnt how the materials arched and stretched, understood the degree of flexibility each ballerina required. Many dancers ordered twenty or more pairs at once. When Susan took over the role of Giselle, her shoes lasted for a single performance.
John never thought about Swans or Nutcrackers and didn’t know one end of an arabesque from another. He was impervious to the gush of compliments from the prima ballerinas. It was not, he would tell them, the shoe which created the pointe. Only the dancer could do that.'
I think the revised piece is tighter and less rambling. It made me wish I were actually writing a novel about Susan and John, instead of making up their scenes as examples.
I didn’t rush through the listening stage with Instructions for the Working Day. I really lingered over this one. I felt closer to my novel then than at any other point. There was no part of the writing process I loved more than this third draft.