I’m at a residency this week at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and it provided the suggestion for today’s tip, which is to read your work aloud.
There are several reasons to do this, applicable at different stages of the writing process. It is important to read your work aloud during the writing process. Writers who take language seriously must think about how words sound. It isn’t enough to tell an exciting story. We must also be aware of the sounds of words, repetitions (intended and otherwise), and the rhythm of our sentences. Whether or not a reader will ultimately hear the words, these factors will affect the experience of reading them on the page, and we must take them into consideration. For me, that’s part of the enjoyment of writing.
Then, at the proofreading stage, it’s important to read work aloud because it helps to identify problems in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and other problems that might have been overlooked when the words on the page have become too familiar. I even advise composition students to do this–and these writers are little concerned with rhythm or euphony.
And then there is the stage when the work is being presented to the public, which happens frequently here at VCCA and also happens when writers are engaged in marketing the work. We often read the work aloud to an audience. And in that process, it’s important read the work aloud in advance. To practice, in other words. the picture above is taken from a blog post called Reading Aloud Will Improve Your Delivery. And that’s absolutely true. The readings here this week have mostly been very good. However, I’ve been to readings in the past that have been awful. (You might be interested in a short essay by Joe Mills on this subject: Dear Poet.) I once suggested to the director of a major writers’ conference that he organize a seminar on giving public readings, but the idea was dismissed because, he said, “The work must exist on the page.” Granted, of course. But then why do we give readings? And if we’re going to give readings, we’d best not put our listeners to sleep.
Read your work aloud. It will help.