Notes on Reading Aloud As a Resource in Revising: “Oh, It’s True. It’s Damn True.”

A dear friend e-mailed me recently, saying her students refuse to read their own work aloud, even in private, even just for themselves. I was amazed. You see, one of the things I always enjoyed most about writing has been to hear it out loud once I thought said work was ready. These students’ response didn’t—and still doesn’t—make sense.

Then I remembered the complaints my own students had on the subject. Here are a few: “I don’t like the sound of my own voice”; “I’m afraid of what I’ll hear” (I love that one); and then of course all the mundane excuses, like “I work” or “I have roommates” or some such.

I get it. We have our lives. Not all of us can enter into 24/7 contemplation. Still, the calling to write is a responsibility (and it is a calling, as much as it is a trade) that we must carefully consider and respect.

So let’s deal with these examples in their turn. Your voice is yours. Listen: Mike Tyson’s doing a one-person show at the moment. Listen to his voice in your mind. That voice has been the subject of mockery for how long. Well, Tyson’s been mocked all the way to the bank. He’s doing it. And you know he’s rehearsed with the same intensity he brought to his training as a fighter. Nobody’s mocking him now. (I wouldn’t under any circumstances. I do NOT want him angry at me for any reason.) If he can do that work, so can you. You have no excuses. Have his commitment.

As to fear, that’s only natural. I worry constantly that I’ll find I’ve committed some act of bullshit or another, but it’s through reading the text one word at a time so I can actually hear the words rather than simply glossing over them, that the revision’s direction comes into clearer focus. You should be scared of what you’ve written; make sure others fear it as well. As to one’s daily life, again, I get it. However, people have to understand that this is a necessary part of the writing process. You can even use that as an added resource; reading to people who aren’t necessarily fans of writing can produce some unexpected but useful input, so long as you don’t push your friends and neighbors too far.

My old rule when I knew I had a reading coming up was to rehearse like a maniac. I wanted to hear what the words sounded like aloud. I knew what they sounded like in my mind—pretty damn good, actually—but when I took the further step of saying the words into the air I heard flaws in line-breaks, heard too many prepositions, etc.,  but it also told me where and what to cut. So, wherever I lived, I’d read out loud. Did I give a damn what other people thought? Oh, hell no. Screw them. If they didn’t like it, they could….you know.

Did it help? I certainly think so. Look—I read this piece aloud before posting, and again, I don’t care that the walls are thin; if anybody’s bothered that their problem, not mind. Know what I mean? Now, do you have to be maniacal? Of course not. All you have to do is listen to the musicality of what you’ve written, prose or poetry. If it’s there, you’ll hear it. If not, you’ll know the work you have to do. Don’t ever be afraid of that work; that’s your dharma. If.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This entry was posted in Poetry/Fiction, Writing in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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