How to Read Your Writing Aloud

Posted Mon, 1/11/2016 - 1:41pm by  |  Category:

Writers are the prairie dogs of the professional kingdom.

It’s not that we aren’t social—we spend our days surrounded by people, many of whom we’ve even created ourselves. Rather, we dread the unexpected. Sharpened comments descending without warning, bent on ripping our delicate work to shreds? We’d rather stay buried.

Which makes a key part of a writing class also the one most likely to send a writer scurrying: having to read your writing aloud. Not only that—you’re reading it aloud in front of other strangers who also happen to be writers. Here are three tips to help you poke your head above ground.

1. Try it at home first.

You’ve got plenty of material other than your own to start with. Pick a favorite piece, something you know and love. Gag the inner community-theater director calling out “assonance” and “cadence.” Focus instead on getting to the bottom of the page. Once you’ve given it a few tries, record yourself on your phone and listen to the playback. Then, if you’re feeling up to it, upgrade to an audience. It doesn’t have to be human—at least not at first.

2. Remember to pause.

My fatal flaw when I read aloud is losing my breath. I’ll be halfway through a sentence when my seemingly endless supply of oxygen whooshes away. The resulting squeak is better suited to middle school than an adult writing class. The tip? Remember to pause. Consciously do this most unconscious of actions. After every period, take a breath or a sip of water. Note ahead of time where you might need to pause so you remember to do so. Slow down, enjoy the text, let others hear it too.

3. Do it for the work.

Reading aloud helps your work or, as writing instructor Peter Elbow more succinctly put it, “to write like a human, read your work out loud.” Nobody expects what you write on the fly to be award-winning, and few editing methods are more tried-and-true than reading your work aloud. Use your voice to hear what your eyes didn’t see and your fingers forgot.

Take these three tips, darling prairie dog, and seize the moment! Starting February 25, Hugo House instructor (and poet-in-residence) Anastacia Tolbert is hosting a six-week course to recharge your writing. The last three weeks specifically focus on revision and presentation, making it the perfect chance for you to put your new know-how to work.

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Introducing the Hugo House “How-To” series. Every week (give or take a few) we’ll share a short tip related to the writing life. Got one of your own? Share it with us at kristens@hugohouse.org.