If there was a secret to finding your tone as a writer, that made your sentences smoother and easier to read—this is it. It’s as simple as speaking what you’ve written down, out loud. I’ve been making use of it for years during the editing process, for sentence length and comma placements.
But recently I’ve taken it a step further: I’ve gotten into the habit of “talking it out” while I write. I haven’t gone crazy but I do sound like I’m muttering an arcane prayer. I hope this blog post explains the magic, and gets you interested enough to try it yourself.
Reducing the resistance to write
Starting is the hardest part of anything, and that includes writing. Coffee is an ally, but it’s not going to lead the charge into today’s first paragraph. You have to be the standard bearer, but you can make it easier on yourself. Read yesterday’s work out loud, and follow that flow into today’s.
What were you thinking about back then? What was your tone, and what did you want to happen next? You have the answer to all these questions, because you already answered them yesterday. When you speak aloud, you become more absorbed and focused on the material. The words that come next, come easy.
Smoothing out your sentences
Your voice is a grindstone against your all too clever mind. If you’re like me, you went through your schooling trying to write the most complicated and technical-sounding essays you could. Your well-intentioned words were surrounded by useless fluff, in some obtuse attempt to show off how smart you were. It was a flawless plan—up until you had to read that convoluted mess out in class!
Punctuation marks are important, but they can also be effortless. Listen to your voice and find them in the natural pauses of your speech. There will be no more misplaced commas or overly-long sentences. Readers need these pauses just as much as speakers do, and they hate feeling breathless mid-sentence.
About the ‘um’s and ‘uh’s of real speech
When we speak to others, many of us litter our speech with filler words: ‘like’s and ‘so’s, ‘um’s and ‘uh’s. My personal weakness is also Obama’s—the dreaded ‘you know’. But you know, when I’m talking while I write, none of these linguistic fillers show up. Instead, my vocal-speech becomes far more deliberate than my thought-speech.
And it’s not just limited to fillers. I find I use far less adverbs and a less passive tone while using this technique. This all adds up into a tighter, more confident style. But don’t take my word for it, take Stephen King’s:
The adverb is not your friend.
Adverbs … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
—Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir on the Craft
Try it yourself. You may find you don’t have the breath to spare for needless words!
Take control over your thinking
For adults, the average reading speed is around 300 words per minute. The average talking speed is around 130. In other words, we can think over twice as fast as we can speak. By speaking and writing at the same time, your voice becomes a speed limiter for your thoughts. And that’s terrific!
By slowing down your thoughts you force them to become more organized and focused. You’re not as likely to get overwhelmed, and you have precious more milliseconds to find that perfect word. You end up becoming more mindful, more aware of what you’re writing and where you’re going with the paragraph.
‘Mindfulness’ isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a real breath of fresh air for the frustrated writer.