The Glorious Sound of a Book


I am not a public speaker. Standing in front of a crowd, even if it’s just to introduce someone else, makes my throat go dry, my voice squeak and my palms sweat. A teacher once videotaped (yes, I’m dating myself with that word) class members reading aloud and when I watched the playback of myself, I silently swore never to open my mouth again in public. It was that hideous.

Needless to say, I swoon in awe listening to those gifted enough to give TED talks, run engaging seminars and perform in the theater. They seem so comfortable.  So relaxed.  So real. 

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to an audio version of a book I read and enjoyed last year. Now let me state right here that I’m a sucker for a British accent (see: Pride & Prejudice, the BBC version; Downton Abbey, et al). Since the book was written by Jojo Moyes, a Brit, it made sense the audiobook would be read by British narrators.

As a writer, listening to this audiobook was a revelation.

The settings were more vivid than they were on the page. The dialogue crackled. The characters felt so real, so alive, that I found myself anticipating their responses to each other, laughing out loud talking back to them as I walked the dog.

I’ve often told my children to read out loud while studying. Seeing words on a page is only one way the brain receives information. Reading them aloud is another; hearing them read to you is one more. The brain process the information differently with each type of intake, just as it does when watching a movie version of a story you’ve read. So why should writing a book be any different?

Suffice it to say I will be reading my writing aloud from now on. I want to hear each word, understand how they’ll sound strung together,  how I’ll feel when I hear them. My goal is to make my stories and characters as real to others as Ms. Moyes’ book felt to me. And I may or may not do it with a British accent.

Do you read your work aloud when editing? Has it changed how you write? How? I’d love to hear from you.

The Everyday Writer

writing calendar

I hate excuses. That’s not to say I don’t use them when I have to, but they don’t make me happy. Sure, I’m busy and that makes it hard to write. But we’re all busy. If I want it to happen, I have to make it happen, just like anything else. Lately, though, I’ve been making excuses.

The worst part isn’t that I’m not writing (getting words down) but that I’m not writing regularly (training my brain to keep going when I’m away from the computer). The reason this is tragic is because I can feel the difference, and see it in the quality of my writing. When I started writing, it was to create a blog to document my new baby’s growth so my parents would know what he was up to, though they live many states away. The writing was for me, for them, and something I did purely to figure out what I had to say.

I wrote on that blog every day, and not only did it become a journal of my children’s early lives, it served as a growth chart for my writing. I got better. When I was out at the park or the supermarket, I was cataloguing  ideas to use as post topics later. Without realizing it, or intending to, I started writing all the time regardless of where I was or what I was doing.

Of course, back then it was much easier to write every day. Babies’ needs, while primarily physical, are also well-regulated. They thrive on routine as, I’ve subsequently learned, do writers. Breakfast, play time, nap time. Nap time for them meant writing time for me. 10am-noon and 2-4pm every day, I could count on the napping hours as the time do all things non-baby-oriented, such as laundry, cleaning and  yes, writing.

Newton’s First Law of Motion, sometimes called the Law of Inertia, is this:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

The same is true for the writing brain. Like any muscle, it strengthens and remembers what it is supposed to do, and it does it with less effort the more it is used. The same holds true for anything we want to progress in, such as exercising, learning a language or playing an instrument. By this measure, we could name this the First Rule of Writing:

By writing every day, the writer’s brain produces a regular flow of ideas and words more easily, and with the same regularity and quality unless this practice is stopped for a significant period of time.

Today, my kids are in school all day, gone from 8 until 3:30 or later. But the lack of that structured regimen from their early days is hurting me more than the extended amount of kid-free time is helping. For years, I let their schedules dictate my writing time. Now I have to do it myself or it won’t get done. So I’m putting it on the calendar for two hours every morning, or two hours in the afternoon on days I have other meetings. No excuses.

How do you maintain your routine of writing every day?