Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reading Aloud as a Writer

I have gone to many workshops about writing. The process. The product. Structure. Poetry Fiction Non-Fiction Essay Memoir. Oh, I think I even went to one on travel writing a long time ago. And freelance writing, copywriting. Creative non-fiction. Playwrighting. Publishing. Writing conferences and retreats.

Most rooms in my house contain, among the bookcases of fiction and memoir and scripts and art books and mystery, interpreting and translation and language, many books on writing. Writing about all of the topics I've already mentioned. And more - such as "The Portable MFA" and several on critique/writing/creativity groups, being a writer, tips and hints and how-to and how-not-to.

One thing I've read and heard many times in many voices and in various word order choices is that writers should Read Your Work Aloud,. To yourself. You can read it to others, but the most important thing is to read it aloud to yourself, for yourself.

At this point, non-writers might think - why? I get that. I really do. Because, while in theory it's a practice I see merit it doing, it is not something I do that often. Yet every time, in critique group or with a writing partner or with someone I know, when I read what I wrote, I almost always find something which I want-need to change. Almost every time.

Still, I balk.

It takes too much time (the deadline is now; I have to get to sleep; I have to get ready for work; I have a list of things to do and don't have time; the cat is waiting for food; I haven't showered yet).

It's too late (at night; I'm too tired; I'll wake up S; I have to get it finished and submitted now, I have to get up early in the morning, etc).

I've read this a million and two times and I won't catch anything, anyway.

It's fine (not perfect I'm sure, but fine).

My friends and writing partners and critique group and writing conference readers have all read it and it's fine. (Ignoring the changes which have been made since each of those times.)

There are probably more reasons. Oh, and the "I don't want to" excuse. What?

I have been working on a piece of writing. It is an excerpt from a book in process and pieces have been workshopped and edited (repeatedly) and restructured, revised, chopped, rewritten. At the Writing By Writers Methow Valley in May I was given some suggested places where this piece might fit. So, as a good writer, I looked them up and selected one (for now). I read their guidelines, which also included having to cut about 1,000 words. And then there were the other story tightening and cleaning up suggestions.

I've been working on this particular version of this part of the story for over a month. I've read it at a writing group. I've had more people read it. I've read it to myself (in my head).

Finally the piece was where I wanted it to be.

Ready to submit.

But I had not read this "final" version aloud to anyone, including myself.

I forced myself to read it out loud. This submission opportunity felt important, it's a step into another level of commitment to my writing and I decided I owed it to this story and this part of the story to give it my all. I told myself I couldn't go to bed until I'd done it and I couldn't submit it until I'd read it aloud to myself. And I'd told another writer that I was going to submit the piece and read it aloud to myself before doing that. External accountability she called it (and we're doing this mutually in other ways, too).

So I did. I went home after my very late work and I read it aloud to myself.

And I found five things I needed to fix, in addition to one more that S found in her read of the piece. Three of the five things I found felt significant: grammatical errors or awkward phrases which were remnants of editing (overlooked cutting out one word from a previous version; accidentally cut out a pronoun in editing). I even found one phrase which was not a dangling piece of overlooked revision, but an awkward phrase which has probably been in the piece since its inception.

Maybe this time I "get it." I really thought this piece was solid and ready to go. I know that of the five things I found, I probably would only have found one on my final read in my head. If that.

Reading aloud. It works.

I did submit the book excerpt. And I feel confident that this draft is solid.