Listen to the sound of your voice (and try not to puke)

I’ve always hated reading out loud. There’s something about trying to vocalize the words written on the page in front of me that always made me feel like I was failing horribly. I would stutter. I would skip words. I would lose my place on the page. Perhaps worst of all, I would rush through the entire thing, eager to be done, and in doing so thoroughly butcher the flow and melody of what I was reading.

You can imagine how I felt when I got to college, and my writing classes started to require that I read my own work out loud in front of the entire class.

Absolutely horrifying. My worst nightmare come true. Pretty much the end of the world.

But as most adults attempt to tell you, more often than not the best thing for you to do is the thing that scares you the most. That’s how you learn and grow as a person. So they say, anyway.

Well in this case it’s actually true. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve developed as a writer these past couple of years, it’s that reading your own work out loud is one of the best things you can do to make your work better. Not only that, it helps you gain a lot of confidence in your writing, compared to if you just kept everything to yourself all the time. Over the course of a single semester, I went from being unable to bear the thought of someone reading my work, to being completely comfortable with reading even my rough drafts out loud to an entire room full of people. Trust me, that kind of self-confidence will take you far as a writer.

Confidence aside, reading your work out loud is the best way to highlight mistakes and flaws in your writing. Take last night, for example. I had just printed out an early draft of my latest manuscript (currently untitled, but it’s a fantasy story centered around necromancy in a way that ought to remind readers of Garth Nix’s Sabriel) and decided to read it to myself out loud in the solitude of my room.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Reading the manuscript (which is still in the extreme rough draft stage) enabled me to get a feel for parts that didn’t flow well, or were outright unnecessary. It also enabled to me pick up on each and every typo that I had made, which is as embarrassing a process as it is rewarding.

Perhaps more importantly, reading my manuscript out loud gave me an appreciation for the parts that work well. This in turn helped renew my confidence in not only the developing story, but also myself as a writer. Trust me, if a sentence sounds good in your head, that’s great. But if it sounds good when read out loud, that’s amazing, and you should feel proud.

So, here’s to something amazing.

See you all next week!

Advice from somebody way smarter than me

Hey look at that, it’s Wednesday. That’s a good enough reason to post something as any, right?

Normally, I don’t feel like I have anything worth writing about, but in a bizarre twist of fate I actually feel inspired to produce words. Weird.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be all about me.

Most of you (or, if I’m being overly optimistic, at least some) have probably heard the name Neil Gaiman before. If not, then you need to get yourself over to your nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of American Gods or Anansi Boys, because the man is pretty damn good. His novel American Gods has actually been adapted to the small screen, and is set to air later this month, unless I am much mistaken. Oh, and I’m going to be seeing him this July in the hopes that he will sign every single possession that I own.

This isn’t about Neil Gaiman either.

Back in the dark ages, in the spring of 1990, Neil Gaiman wrote a book with a man named Terry Pratchett. The book was titled Good Omens, and it’s one of the best books I have ever read – a perfect amalgam of Gaiman and Pratchett’s witty sense of humor and deep understanding of human nature.

I was rereading Good Omens  the other week,  and in the back of the book, after the final pages of the story had run their course, I came across an interview with Neil Gaiman himself. I had read this interview before, when I first read the book, but I had quite forgotten about it. I’m not going to try summarizing the entire interview, partly because it would be entirely unnecessary and partly because I simply don’t want to. I only want to talk about one part of it, because that’s what’s been on my mind for much of this past week.

In the interview, Gaiman describes some of his memories of Pratchett, back when they were both younger. This one stood out to me:

“He wrote four hundred words a night, every night: it was the only way for him to keep a real job and still write books.”

I thought to myself, hey, you admire the frick out of this man, why not try taking his advice? A little backstory – I’ve been a college graduate for nearly a year now, and I have spent much of this past year telling myself that once the inspiration struck me I would sit down and write that novel that’s been sitting in the back of my head. One day, one day it would all click and I would spontaneously release all those pent-up words that were trapped in my head, and then my career as a writer would begin.

One day.

But that day never came. The task of writing a whole novel was too daunting, and the time just never seemed “right.” So in this past year, I’ve written very, very little indeed.

But four hundred words? That’s barely anything! Depending on dialogue and spacing, that can be less than a single page! I figured what the hell, if my all-time favorite author was able to write entire books at the snail’s pace of four hundred words a day, then I could at least give it a shot.

And so last week I sat down at my (newly organized) desk, turned on my laptop, and opened up the document that I had *attempted* to write for last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The document was less than four thousand words long, which is pretty pathetic considering I spent most of November trying to find the time and motivation to work on it. It was a disorganized mess, but I didn’t care. People always say not to bother editing a manuscript until you have a complete first draft, and I was sticking to that.

That first night, I wrote six hundred and seventy-two words. The next, four hundred and twenty-eight. The night after that, four hundred and thirty-eight. And so I continued, setting aside time each night before bed to huddle over my computer and type away until I hit a stopping point, provided that stopping point came somewhere after word four hundred. I’m not someone that easily picks up new habits – I have a chronic lack of discipline, and generally tend to be a shit about anything that involves sticking to a schedule. But I kept it up, day after day.

It’s been just over a week since I started following Pratchett’s routine, and I’ve already added more than five thousand words to my manuscript. To some, that may not sound like a lot, but for me it’s everything. That is more than I wrote for the entirety of this past year, and without this schedule I can guarantee that none of those five thousand words would have been written.

What is the point of all of this? Heck, I don’t know. Maybe I just want everyone to know how awesome Terry Pratchett was (I wrote my senior capstone on him, so you could say that I’m a little biased). Maybe I’m just amazed that this routine is actually working for me, and want other people to try it too. Maybe neither. Maybe both.

Either way, it’s time for me to get back to it. Catch you all next week.