Unleash Your Inner Rock Star: Read Your Work Aloud
By Henriette Lazaridis Power
Oh, you know what writers are like: self-deprecating, solitary creatures who are awkward in crowds. We cultivate our insecurities; we hide behind our prose. If we liked people—I mean really liked them—we’d spend our days differently—like actually among people. The truth is that this is just an image we cultivate. Secretly, we’re all pining for the chance to step behind a podium and reach for the microphone. We all want to be rock stars.
We tell ourselves that if we hit it big, we’ll have our moment of glory in the form of a reading or even a book tour. We know that writers who have actually done book tours talk about how exhausting they are. All that time away from home taking its toll. All that time on the road. They say that, but all we hear is “on the road.” As in “on tour”. We’re right there with Bono and The Edge.
Why wait for the culmination of a long series of successes before we can unleash our inner rock stars? We don’t need permission to read our work aloud. And in fact, reading it aloud at every step of the writing process can actually make a book tour more likely to happen. Because reading aloud is when you’ll catch everything from the overall pacing of a chapter to the wording of a particular sentence. Plus, it’s fun. You get to do the acting you were too chicken to do in college; and those darling phrases you’re going to have to murder? Well, you get to hear them one last time in all their mellifluous glory before you delete them.
So, step up to your imaginary microphone and start talking. Here are some guidelines.
1. Do It Yourself
You can use software or even the Kindle to read your manuscript back to you in some simulacrum of a human voice. But what if the computer can wrap its bytes around a bunch of fricatives, and you can’t? Better find that out now than while you’re in front of a crowd atBrookline Booksmith.
2. Hold Off
Resist the temptation to read your efforts aloud every day. You’ll risk turning your sentences into hardened gems—even when they lack that lapidary quality that reviewers like so much. And then it will be harder to get rid of them if and when they’re messing up your narrative structure. Another way to think of it? Premature Reading Creates Too Many Darlings.
3. Don’t Speed Read
I tried this once in a fit of cockiness. I knew I should read the manuscript aloud, but I didn’t really think it needed any corrections. So I read fast. Ridiculously fast. And of course I missed everything I should have caught, and reinforced my own belief that the good parts were good. If you’re going to read aloud, take the time to go slow.
4. Embrace Bluetooth
Now you too can be one of those people walking down the street with a space-age protrusion attached to your cheek. If you’re not afraid to walk into a parking meter, read your manuscript off the screen of your mobile. You’ll look really important (or really crazy) while you multi-task. Coffee Run = Revision Session.
5. Live Large
Ham it up. Read aloud the way you’d want to read on your tour—and then some. Test out every emotion, every intonation. Have fun with the process, even though you’re doing what is actually hard work on revision.
6. Be Generous
If you run out of your own manuscripts and the reading-aloud urge overtakes you, check out Libri Vox. Volunteer to be the voice talent for the public-domain work of your choice.
In the end, the only difference between writers and rock stars is that rock stars get their songs played on karaoke machines. (Really. It’s the only difference.) Maybe if we all get good enough at reading aloud, we’ll start a new fad: Writer Karaoke. But for that to happen, we’d have to get out more.
Henriette Lazaridis Power is the editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing new work exclusively in audio form. Her first novel will be published in 2013 by Ballantine Books. A Rhodes Scholar and a Ph.D. in English, she taught at Harvard for ten years before remembering that academia had never really been part of the plan. Since turning to writing full time, she has published work in Salamander, The New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, and Camera Obscura, among others, and has won a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant.