Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘reading aloud’

All Night Long

The light of day shows best in the middle of the night. At least that’s when I get in my best edits, insights, and revisions. It’s an extension of parenting young children decades ago with no time to write except in the middle of the night when they were finally asleep. When I should have been asleep. It’s the reality of now working full time, which we all know encompasses far more than the requisite eight hours on work tasks, but also includes two to three or four hours of getting oneself ready, getting to work, getting to lunch, and then getting home. Eleven is the new eight hour day, and only if it isn’t actually 12 that’s the new eight hour day, because there’s always some extra work from the real (meaning paid) job thrown in, just in case you have time.




The point of this rant is that my writing is not done even when it’s done, and then it never happens until it begins – in the middle of the night. Stealth – a surreptitious movement while unobserved, to grab loot – becomes the modus operandi for this writer not gifted with attendance at writing conferences, writer’s residencies, or university writing workshops. The luxury of writing does not exist for me at a secluded location with a farfetched title (think Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury College in the forests of Vermont – I mean, really, Bread Loaf?) but here in the suburban faux eucalyptus woods of Orange County. The trees are real enough but the woods idea is no more genuine than the straight-row planting done by some guy with the wrong idea about what kind of trees would provide great lumber for railroads. Yes, I’m off topic, a not unusual aspect of writing on a catch as catch can basis. Sigh, the way life interrupts my work – tut tut. I steal more time to write.

Insight strikes me much the same way. Harum scarum. I struggle with a chapter if it meanders without advancing the plot, or if a character is tediously authentic. A lizard scurries across the outside deck and I flinch at the distraction. It dashes into our staghorn fern, and I catch a glimpse of the scene I need to write. Scratch the mundane descriptions, allow the hero to dash unexpectedly, cause my reader to flinch but not toss the book. Revision begins with those kinds of epiphanies, equations of unlikely elegance. I suspect because I am willing to be up late at night to the detriment of a good night’s sleep, I also remain open to suggestion at moonlit hours. (It is now 11:14 PM and my alarm plays Bach at 5:00 AM. Ridiculous, aren’t I?) Maybe when I’m sleep deprived, my muse finds me vulnerable and easy to seduce. Um, don’t spread that around.

My other quixotic trait is that I frequently traipse around my house spouting parts of my books, trying out phrases, testing the dialogue, or reading passages to the spider webs in the rafters. The wandering helps me grab hold of a singular word, the reading aloud lets me gauge flow and rhythm. I try out dialects and accents, puzzling how to capture them in my story, tossing them when they don’t work. It’s like fishing in my house only I don’t have to stand in a river wearing high waders, or gut the thing on the end of the line. No raging current, no wriggling fish, maybe a dynamic re-write.

I’m diligent about writing – and rewriting. First drafts are imbued with passion and creativity, but also stunted by lapses and clumsiness. I get those first drafts on paper, and then rework them to make them as perfect as possible. Reread, reconsider, rewrite, and repeat. Sometimes only the computer light keeps the night at bay, sometimes I nod over the keyboard, sometimes I pack up the book into its virtual filing cabinet and set it aside. But one night a few months later I’ll get back to my WIP and tackle it again. Dinner is over, the house is quiet, I keep company with the moon, to its nocturnal rhythms and monthly phases. And one day when the moon is sleeping off its evening watch, when I have finally and truly pronounced my book complete and final, I hope an editor will find my work compelling, and will publish my work.

I won’t care if readers prefer to read my stories by the glow of the moon or the glare of the sun, just as long as they read.

Night time,


S is for Speak Write



This is a simple post where I encourage you to speak – out loud – all the words of your book in progress. One single sentence and my alphabet blog post for “S” is complete.

Perhaps I will elaborate a bit.

A book is a theatrical experience in the same way that most anything creative is art, considered a right brain occupation. If you are like me, you “talk out loud in your head” every fiction book you read. I talk-act all the parts, even the despicable characters to whom you wouldn’t give the time of day in real life. I speak the dialogue and narrate the action and whisper the internal thoughts. Your book or mine, I talk it through, feeling the tension, sitting at the edge of my seat with my feet propped on a pillow, the book in my lap. Or on my computer.

OK, so you don’t need to be the drama queen I am, you don’t have to make paper hats or Popsicle stick actors to get into a story. Certainly not those you read for pleasure. But if you write, and I assume you do if you read my blog, read your own manuscript aloud.  Not in your head, but loony tune, meshuggeneh, cuckoo as the clock, all out nuts out loud. Be passionate, get angry, weep your heart dry, host a theatrical reading experience – let your voice be heard. So what if the neighbors hear you? It’s your prerogative to give all for your art.

“And why is it necessary?” you ask, crossing one leg over the other, raising an eyebrow, speculating on my sanity or lack thereof. You haven’t read a story out loud since your kids were tiny tots, melted at your hip, begging for “one more.”

Part of the intent of your self-editing process is to catch the errors – the lapses in time frame, characterization blunders, inconsistencies in action, double exposures, words missing in action, and verb tense goofs. But your brain is so smart that it self-corrects better than spell chetck. You noticed how “check” is misspelled? Ordinary silent reading and you often miss stuff that doesn’t belong because your brain edits and shows you what you meant to write, not what you what you actually wrote. Did you catch it – “what you” twice? I’ve written the date of the Apollo 11 moon landing as July 20, 19969. Now you know that isn’t right, but can you figure out which number I accidentally repeated? Hint: should be July 20, 1969. In 19969 they’ll probably be walking on moons all over the Milky Way, stopping in for local cheese snacks. Words of omission are another frequent problem that its ugly head into writing. You know I meant to write “another frequent problem that pops its ugly head,” and without the fizzie of that pop, the meaning falls flat. The final problem area often overlooked concerns changes in verb tense in the middle of chapters or paragraphs. Most work is written in present tense, simple past tense, or perfect past tense. Author preferences reflect what feels natural to the time period and flow of the story, but if it had not been comfortable while we are writing, we had lost audience buy in. This last one needs an editor above my pay grade, but you surely sense the awkwardness of so much verb tense mash up. It’s easy to hear the tense mess when read aloud.

I spotted one of my own real life errors when a character argued with someone who was introduced several chapters later, a similar faux pas to muffing the punch line in a joke. The argument is crucial to the plot but must happen in the correct moment. I’ve also written Benjamin into Henry’s story, so familiar was I with both men that one just made an uninvited  guest appearance in the other’s story.  Henry didn’t complain of course; he hung back in the corner and smirked. I didn’t notice until I read the section intentionally and caught Benjamin involved in the wrong plot. Reading my work out loud helped me catch these errors because my mouth stumbled over the inconsistencies that my brain had previously “fixed.”

Reading engages the reader, even the reader who is also the writer, in present moment awareness of how the language of the story sounds/reads. It’s a slow tool but an outstanding method of catching blooper story experiences. And it’s fun to “act” your own work – you get to be the writer, the director, and the star. Three gilded Roscars right this way, please.


Image courtesy Jonathon Colman, Google images, public domain