Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Be the Weird Author: Read Your Writing Out Loud!

This fall, I was fortunate to hear quite a few of my favorite YA authors talk about their writing practice. One of my favorite anecdotes came from Leigh Bardugo, author of the Grisha series, who talked about her habit of dramatically reading her manuscripts out loud in her backyard. One day, while doing this, she overheard the man next door call out to his wife, "Honey, she's doing it again!"

I shared this story with my students last week as we gathered on the carpet for our mini lesson as a way to segue into the strategy I wanted them to try with their newly-completed "crappy first drafts" of their realistic fiction pieces: hearing their words out loud.

I told them that, yes, reading your story out loud can seem...well...a little weird to some, as Leigh Bardugo found out. But writers know this act has so much value. Reading your own words out loud lets you hear those awkward phrases and missing words that you might not catch otherwise. When I asked my students if any of them had tried reading their writing out loud in the past, many of them raised their hands.

I held up a printed copy of my realistic fiction story. "I'm going to try a slightly different approach today," I said, handing my "manuscript" to Sisi, a student who I had asked earlier to read part of my story out loud. I set my timer for five minutes, grabbed some Post-It notes and a pen, and got into position. "I'm going to listen to Sisi read my story, and as changes occur to me, I'm going to jot them down. Watch."

Sisi read. When she stumbled over sentences, I jotted it down. When the name of the high school I had invented sounded awkward, I made a note. When I heard my introduction, I realized how heavy with description it was. I made a list of where I could do some chopping.

My list grew more and more after each class period!

When the timer went off, I held up my filled Post-It note and shared some of my discoveries with my students.

"Writers make a plan for revision as they listen to their words out loud. And they write it down!" I told my writers that my preferred tool was a Post-It note, but the same concept could be achieved by sharing their Google Doc with their writing partner and adding comments as their partner read their piece out loud.

As we got ready to transition into our workshop time, I invited my writers to make a plan: would they read their own stories to themselves, like Leigh Bardugo, stopping and making notes as they heard places to change? Or would they work with their partner, listening as their words are read out loud and writing down a plan for revisions?

"Today, we're all going to be that weird author reading our words out loud," I said as I sent them off to workshop. For the rest of the day, my classroom was filled with the sounds of my writer's words being read aloud.

Music to my ears.

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