A) It makes me uncomfortable, and B) What’s the point?
Recently I joined a writing group that meets in person every Sunday. It is a wonderful group of writers. I am truly impressed, not just by their writing, but at the immense amount of helpful and positive support and critiques each member gives.
I was a little thrown off my first time however when I learned the set up. A couple people share each week: each writer has ten minutes to read their work out loud and then immediately after every person in the group has two minutes to provide a critique.
Immediate critiquing aside, one thing I noticed was how pieces sounded different when read aloud. Certain repetitive words are caught, grammar is noticed, flow sounds right or off, dialogue makes sense or doesn’t quite click. There are a lot of little nuances that aren’t picked up when reading silently that are when read out loud.
I still was weary however. I knew eventually I would be ready to share some of my work with this group and reading aloud frightens me. I get shaky, my heart races the entire time, my mouth dries up and I tumble over my words – it is quite chaos. So I decided to give it a try on a short story I wrote a couple years back, one that I really want to perfect but am aware that it still needs work. I began reading aloud to my empty room when no one was home and was shocked at how often I would stop and find myself rewriting a line here and there. Oh, that doesn’t sound right. Did I really just use the word dull three times in one paragraph? And, the interesting part is – I have read this piece so many times over the past couple years. I’ve read it after taking a break for a few months and still I never noticed these issues. It was amazing what reading aloud did for my story.
Last night I came across best-selling author Claire Cook’s website and one of her pages is dedicated to Aspiring Writers. When asked is she has any tips for self-editing, Cook answers:
“The best one I know is to read your work out loud. You’ll absolutely pick up mistakes you’d otherwise miss. This is particularly helpful with dialog. If it doesn’t sound like something someone would actually say, it won’t come out of your mouth right. But this technique also helps me hear other mistakes and to find the rhythm of my work. Try it — I think you’ll like it!”
So, give reading your work out loud a try, and see what you come up with. Do you already have great flow but overuse words? Is your dialogue off or just on point? Reading aloud won’t only help you find mistakes or inconsistencies – it may even help show you the areas you are strongest.
Another thing to keep in mind with reading your writing out loud – if you do become a published author, attending events and readings, this is a skill set you will want to perfect early on. Master it before you have to face a larger audience – practice with writing groups and in the comfort of your own room. You’ll find your rhythm and learn to love your writing that much more. You wrote it, so why shouldn’t you feel great reading it?
*If you haven’t practiced this before, I encourage you to try it now, or as soon as you can! Pull out your recent story and read a chapter, or couple pages out loud. What things did you pick up on that you may have otherwise missed?