Saturday, December 6, 2014

Writing: Reading Out Loud

For best results please read this post out loud.

As an IT guy who spends my whole day in front of a keyboard, as a writer who then goes home and spends more hours at that same keyboard writing and editing, as someone who always tries to carry a notepad and a pen with me—or at least in my car, as someone who keeps a dream journal and pen next to my bed to capture my first thoughts by hand when awakening, as a reader and favorer of paper books with shelves and stacks of them cluttering up my house, it’s easy for me to always think of writing as the written word.

A first attempt to convey ideas by written symbols or images may have been with the earliest cave paintings (approx. 30,000 years ago) but many sources would point to the Sumerians and then Egyptians with their first efforts putting down symbols indicating individual whole words or ideas about 5,000 or so years ago. Fast forward to the invention of the first printing press (1400AD) and then into our modern world with our copying machines, personal computers and the Internet—for anyone living today written language is everywhere, easily accessible and often taken for granted.

But before language was ever written down, it was first spoken. The ability to use language--spoken word--is one of the uniquely human abilities that separate our brains (cerebrums) from that of other animals. According to some sources whatever variety of human beings were walking around on the planet a million years ago were already speaking to one another.

For the past many weeks I’ve been in a creative writing poetry class where frequently our teacher, individual students or the whole class will read/recite poems out loud. It’s interesting to me that a poem that I read silently to myself from our assigned book that didn’t make much of an impression on me—when read out loud suddenly works—certain words, phrases, maybe even the entire poem taking on new interest and meaning when put to a human voice.

My class also had the benefits of having some wonderful visiting authors who read their work to us. The difference of the emotional tone that can be heard when listening to an author read his/her work out loud, the words they choose to emphasize, the places they choose to pause, sometimes blew me away.

So where am I going with all this? The next time you read something, I encourage you to read it out loud, listen to what is on the page or screen. It may bring greater understanding to the material. But, especially if you’re a writer, and you’re editing your own work, I think it’s especially important for you to try to read your own work out loud as another way to improve your editing. (And believe me I am working to do more of this with my own writing and editing.)

When we read to ourselves our eyes tend to ignore/skip over problems that may be there—but when we read out loud, awkward phrases, skipped and/or incorrect words stand out. Sections of dialogue in prose, I think, are great candidates to evaluate aloud. As you read does it sound natural or not? Your ear will know.

This last week I had the cool experience of attending a reading by poet, Jamaal May. I really enjoyed his book Hum and the emotion he put into his live reading (performance, I should say—he memorizes most of his poems and recites them) was phenomenal. Based on this experience I have spent some time recently seeking out more poems to listen to by various slam/performance poets. I’ve included a few links below that I think illustrate how powerful writing can be when spoken (in case you haven’t already found these artists on your own).

Thanks for reading—out loud.