I’m excited to go to a write-a-thon today at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop because I find it energizing now and then to write creatively when I’m surrounded by other people doing the same. However, there is one thing that I have become used to doing when I write that I’ll have to give up for today: reading aloud to myself. I don’t mean muttering, I mean normal-volume dramatic reading.
I got in the habit of reading all my copy aloud when I worked in television news. There was something exciting, tribal, and hilarious about sitting in a TV newsroom before a newscast and listening to a roomful of writers, reporters, and anchors read their copy aloud, occasionally calling out to a neighbor, “Which way sounds better?” The idea was that we were writing for the listener’s ear, and this would tell us how the copy sounded. It would also give us a chance to practice before presenting our work, either in the recording studio or on the set to a live audience. When I began writing for TV production, I did the same because my scripts would ultimately be read by talent and heard by a viewing audience. I didn’t want to trip up either of them. When I began writing memoir and fiction, I did the same, for new reasons.
I realized that if I could easily read a story aloud, it was more likely readers could too. I noticed that when I read aloud I caught more errors in sentence construction and syntax, more unintended double meanings, more run-on sentences, and more mistakes in general. I also noticed that I created more poetic expression, rhythm, and flow. I began to hear the difference between lyrical and prosaic, inspiring and cliché. I discovered that reading aloud was especially helpful in writing dialogue: I could hear instinctively whether I had hit a wrong note or gone too far. Reading aloud helped me identify whether the exchanges had the sense of heightened reality I like in dialogue—more or less a feeling of reality with the boring parts taken out.
Reading my stories aloud allows me to experience them in a new way. In the end, it’s simply one more way of taking stock of my creation and evaluating whether or not it’s working. My ears are different organs than my eyes, and they offer different insights. I’ve discovered that many authors read their work aloud for the same reasons I do.
Sometimes I read my writing aloud to my husband, which gives me yet another way to listen to myself. Whether he has a reaction or not—“Please don’t ask for my opinion,” he sometimes says—I find myself grinning, cringing, or getting teary eyed as I sense whether or not I expect the work to ring true for an audience or fall flat. I once mentioned this practice to a colleague, who shook his head and said, “Ah, the things we writers put our spouses through.” He apparently resists the urge to read his poetry to his wife. But then I’ve always been something of an emotionally needy child, eager for attention.
I’ll confess, I’ve always talked to myself a bit when alone, ever since I was a little girl. I suppose we all do now and then, but I suspect I might do it slightly more often than most would care to admit. I’ve always been a storyteller, and my first audience is me. If I don’t like my story, I don’t expect anyone else to. I really don’t need a reason, though. I’ve always loved hearing stories aloud. I suppose it still reminds me of sitting on my grandma’s lap, reading aloud to her.
Writers spend a lot of time alone, so learning to enjoy our own company can be half the battle in overcoming loneliness. Sometimes I like to talk with my only officemate, me, even if it’s just to read what I’m working on. Sometimes she’s a pretty good listener. Other times, it helps to get out with other writers and share some silence, before I start hallucinating another party to this conversation…So off I go to the Lighthouse 12-hour Write-a-thon!
Do you ever read to yourself when you write, or talk to yourself when you create?