Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Have you heard this writing tool?


No, I didn’t forget a word in the title. If you’ve been following this blog the past few weeks, you know that the past couple of months I was working on my manuscript for my editor. I sent my edits in last week–woo-hoo!

In the process of trying to make up for a nutso April when I didn’t get much editing done–but hey, I did get stranded in WI by a blizzard–I searched for anything to help me speed things up.

It’s easy to add a sentence or edit a whole paragraph, but sometimes I end up with a long convoluted sentence that should be split, or more than one way to “fix” something. Besides, if there’s something wonky, I’ll catch it when I proofread it, right? Like those awkward sentences that are grammatically correct, but just don’t flow. Or those two words that should be swapped, like “you were” and “were you”.

I use a few proofreading methods, like printing out the manuscript in a different font so it looks “fresh” to the eye, and reading the manuscript from the last page to the first page, which interrupts the brain’s tendency to anticipate what the next sentence should be (yes, it works, until the brain figures things out 😐 ).

As writers, we are too close to our work to really look at it objectively. That’s why leaving the manuscript sit for a few days to weeks is good; you gain a little distance from it. But I didn’t have a few days, much less a week, to let the story rest. And I printed out the manuscript once, but I didn’t have time to do it all over again. Besides, I was at my dad’s house.

Another thing I’ve heard about to help with the proofreading process is text-to-speech (actually, it’s reading the manuscript out loud, but no one said you had to do it yourself 🙂 ). There are a number of programs out there that will read what you’ve written. I tried a couple, one of which is Natural Reader, which I tested. I spent way too much time looking for something cheap. Yes, I know the online version of Natural Reader is free, and there is an iPad app, and maybe I’ll use it sometime, but I knew there had to be something included with Windows 8.1, with the whole accessibility thing and all.

So I looked it up. Turns out that Windows has a built-in voice that can read websites and stuff. And bonus, Microsoft Word (I use Scrivener to actually write, but I compile the manuscript for Word when I read through it) has a text-to-speech function. A-ha!

First, you set up the Narrator voice in Windows. I have Windows 8.1, but it should be the same process in Win10; you’ll have to do a search for text to speech. In the Control Panel, there is a Speech Recognition option. In there are the settings for the Narrator. Select the option for Text to Speech. TTS

Next, select the voice. There are only three options in my version: 2 American (male and female) and one British (female). I didn’t look to see if I could get any more; I just wanted something to read to me. I picked Zira, the American female voice. She just sounded nicer.

speech propertiesAdjust the voice speed. You can use the Preview button to hear the voice. Set the speed, then apply the settings with the OK button (I didn’t include that in my screenshot).

Next, I opened my Word doc. Do you know what the Quick Access toolbar is? It’s the tiny toolbar with the W icon for Word. It has the most used stuff on it, like Save and Undo. Mine is in the upper left corner above the menu bar.


You’ll have to customize the toolbar to make the Speak command available. (FYI, I have Word 2010, so the newer versions might be a little different. You should be able to use the Help to find the Speak command.) Click on the down arrow with the line above it on the right side of the Quick Access toolbar to open the toolbar’s menu.

word options

You’ll see the commands on the toolbar marked, but you need to add the Speak command. Select the More Commands… option way at the bottom.

Now this is a bit more involved. At the top of the left panel where it says Choose Commands From, change where it says Popular Commands (click on the down arrow) and change it to All Commands.

Then you will have to scroll (luckily the commands are alphabetical) all the way down to Speak. Select Speak, then click on the Add>> button. The Speak word moves from the left panel to the right panel. Click OK to finish.

word options2

Now you should have the Speak command easily accessible in the Quick Access toolbar.


All you have to do now is highlight a chunk of text and click the Speak button. Granted, it’ll only read about 700 words at a time no matter how many you select, but I found that is enough to hear the section, fix anything, and read it through again.

It’s not perfect, and it will spell some things out when it doesn’t know how to pronounce them, but I heard misspellings (“h-d-d” instead of “had”), missing words (rather, I didn’t hear the missing words 😀 ), and awkward phrases. The voice is a bit robotic, but it’s better than computer voices were 10 years ago. Even sounds more human than Stephen Hawking.

Anyway, I found the Speak command a huge help. I even heard it read character facts that were different than they were in an earlier chapter. For instance, my character started off wearing a sweatshirt, and two chapters later she was wearing a sweater. Same day, only hours apart, and no, she hadn’t gone home to change. I think I found and fixed more stuff because I heard it. And I think it helped that I wasn’t reading aloud myself, because I suspect you still miss stuff because you’ve gone through it so many times.

Anyway, sorry about the long post today, but I wanted to share this tool with you. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it so much I’ll spring for the Natural Reader. I’ve been thinking about Dragon Naturally Speaking as well (speech to text), but guess what? Windows and Word have something like that built in as well. I’ll test it out a bit to see if it could work for me before I drop money on Dragon. (BTW, Google also has a speech-to-text feature in Google Docs, so you can check that out, too).

Oh, and I have to share this. Last night my husband came in from outside (I was working on a photo board for my daughter’s grad party tomorrow) and said I had to see something. And bring a camera. This is what I saw.

zoey top of trailer 1

And where was she?

zoey top of trailer 2

We moved our current house onto the property twenty years ago, and while we were remodeling, we lived in a trailer house. Needless to say, the trailer is still on the property being used as storage right now. Don’t know how she got up there, but she did get down on her own. I suspect she used a tree.

Have a great weekend!

Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, four chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

22 thoughts on “Have you heard this writing tool?

  1. I like the idea of text-to-speech very much, and I’m glad to see it discussed here. I always tell my students that, as one way of editing their work, they should read it aloud to themselves, or better yet, to someone they trust to tell them the truth. That’s the best way to catch mechanics errors, overuse of words, and so on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Julie, I’m impressed. Your techie skills are 150 times greater than mine.

    Enjoy the weekend —

    Neil S.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just started using this on words a few months ago. I didn’t know you could slow it down or change voices, but it has helped me immensely. I have the male voice and it helps catch all those words I can’t see missing or if a semtence is weird. I will be interested if you try another program. Great information to share. Love the kitty picture!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, D, it helped a lot! I tested the Natural Reader app on my iPad, thinking I could listen to it read my manuscript while I drove the 2 hrs home from my dad’s, but the trial only reads for 15 minutes, then you have to wait an hour to run it another 15 minutes. I might try it again, but I found Zira easier to listen to for some reason. Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Now I understand your cryptic “Trust me on this” in one of your emails yesterday in regards to it being worthwhile to hear it out loud. You were probably thinking to yourself, “She’ll she… mwuhahaha.” This is very cool. Thanks for the public service announcement! I may have to give this a try. You have it all laid out so well that even *I* *might* be able to figure it out!
    Silly Zoey. I suppose she just wanted to see what the world looked like from up there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mwahahahaha! Oh, I think you could figure it out just fine 😀 You do have a few alternate readers available. You could even get the girls to play different parts. It’d be like a play! 😀

      Cats like to be high up for some reason. At least she didn’t climb up the silo to chase pigeons. One of our previous cats did that, we climbed up to rescue her (and got scratched for our efforts), and she got stranded up there again the very next day. It took my hubs a day to patch all the holes she was using to get in there.

      Have a great weekend!


  5. Hi Julie,
    I have a Mac and I couldn’t find the speech tool with my version of Word. I use Office 365 and it is supposed to be the latest version of Word. But then it is for a Mac and not Windows for a PC. However, Mac has the option of to covert text to speech. Go to your System Preferences and then to Accessibility and then to Speech. As does Microsoft, you have numerous voices and languages to select. I also have Natural Reader, but with it you have to import the file. I agree, hearing your writing picks up phrases and cumbersome sentence structure. Great post. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I added the speech bubble to my ribbon command a while back and then forgot it was there. Your post just reminded me about it. I’m going to try using it and see how I do. I just finished the final proofs on book 2 so I’m done with editing for a while, but I might give it a go as I write too. This was a fabulous post, very detailed and spelled out.

    I also just found out that for Office 360 Subscribers Microsoft has added a built-in dictation feature that works like Dragon. I’m going to have to check into that one too.

    And Zoey must have been surveying her realm. Surely she is the queen of all she sees, LOL! Great photos 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mae! Oooh, yes, I read about the dictation tool. I’d like to try that when I work on book 2 (after I get my new outline done…uff da!). One of my writing sisters uses the dictation feature Google has with its Docs, something like Google Talk something. She likes it.

      Yep, after I took the pictures, she laid down and rolled around like cats do on the roof of the trailer. I was just glad I didn’t have to climb up there to rescue her 😀

      Have a great weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Word’s text to speech is always my very last editing pass, Julie. I agree with all the benefits you mentioned. Our eyes stop seeing the mistakes and even when we read aloud, out brain sometimes will read what should be there versus what it. Have “David” read to me circumvents all that. I didn’t have it on my quick access, and now I do! Thanks for that tip! Happy Writing, my friend. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I spent a long time trying to find a good text-to-speech tool, only to discover it right in my Word program (2016).

    And your cat–they are amazing. A lesson for life to allow people to solve their own problems (because like your cat, they probably will).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you found a good text-to-speech tool, and right in Word–so cool, right?

      We’ve never seen Zoey on top of the trailer, but I suspect she’s up there more than we know 🙂 Have a great week, Jacqui!


  9. Great tips, Julie! 😀 I’ve never heard of reading the ms from last word to first and am definitely intrigued! I’ll have to give that a go! You’ve presented the program brilliantly and for a moment thought I’d landed on Jacqui’s blog! I used Natural Reader for my first book but am looking around for other ones so will keep this in mind. As for the cat, so cute and you can never have too many photos! Hope the week is going welll for you! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad this helped, Annika! I tested Natural Reader, but to my ears, the Word narrator sounded better. I still might go the Natural Reader route, especially if I can have it read to me without being connected to the Internet (like, in the car during my commute).

      Haven’t seen Zoey on top of the trailer before, but also never looked 🙂 Now, if I can get her to stop shedding on my favorite chair…

      Hope you are having a wonderful week!

      Liked by 1 person

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