Ears versus eyes

I wasn’t eavesdropping.

I swear.

My son, Carlin, is in Grade 11. He has the biggest essay assignment of his life bubbling away on the hotplate this spring, so we’ve had a few conversations about writing, organizing our thoughts, capturing our reader’s interest, and avoiding that greatest of sins, the passive voice.

(Ah, yes, the passive voice. Note to self: Start drafting my anti-passive-voice rant. The over-heated HST pros/con debate in BC is providing me with lots of great examples right now!)

I’m excited about his project for many reasons. One: not that long ago he could barely put together a cogent email; now, his writing has progressed so far that his teacher gave him a personal challenge to prepare an essay that is somewhat larger than the class assignment! Two: he’s writing about a topic that has had a profound effect on my own life and health, food. (More on that topic here, Three: he really cares about this paper, and is researching and writing really hard, almost like he’s on a mission.

Then, this weekend, he gave me a fourth reason to be excited about his assignment.

Before I tell you why, I’ll tell you the same thing I told him about something I have learned to do when the message I want to communicate via writing really matters a lot.

I read it out loud.

If I can, I read it out loud to someone close to me — they are the most likely to be the most annoyed when I make no sense! Their stabs at my “beautiful work” can hurt, but even I, infamous Queen of Defensive Over-Reactions, must confess that their critiques are more like a surgeon’s scalpel than they are a switchblade.

However, I don’t always have a willing victim close at hand (I wonder why?), so I’ve had to develop an effective workaround. Reading my work aloud to myself helps me find “trippy” spots, the places where my language doesn’t flow as well as I imagine it does as I type it.

Back to Carlin and my fourth reason for excitement about his work-in-progress. It came from a conversation I overhead him having with a classmate on his cellphone, upstairs. I swear again, I wasn’t eavesdropping. He was talking so loudly, excitedly, jocularly, that I couldn’t help but hear every word as they came tumbling down the banister and into my ears.

He had just discovered an important editing device that he found both useful and funny, and was sharing this new knowledge with a classmate who was also grappling with the same monster assignment.

“I had it all drafted, and it was really good. And then I started reading it out loud.”

(He listened to some of my advice? Cool!)

“It sounded so ridiculous, I had no idea what I was trying to say — and I WAS THE ONE WHO WROTE IT!” he bellowed, laughing his head off. “It all made perfect sense in my head when I wrote it, but it made no sense at all when I read it out loud.” More guffaws.

(Since then, he’s been madly editing away. He has even asked me to read it through for him. That’s even more than cool!)

Sounds like the ears are better editors than the eyes!



  1. Judy Anderson says

    As usual, enjoy reading your “writings”. Funny, how you write something and you want others to praise your work and how cleverly you have written it. But, when someone close to you criticizes, you become very defensive and critical of their understanding of what you were trying to explain.
    Funnily, I rewrite my e-mails many times, trying to make sure that I get my point across, but at the same time, trying not to sound too defensive, or “know-it-all”. Word of note, always read aloud your e-mails before you send them off.
    Ha, ha. “Private joke”, Erin.
    Miss getting your funny e-mails. Glad to hear that Carlin is doing so well.

  2. Yeah…

    I love my digital tools (iPad, iPhone, Mac), but sometimes they just don’t compare well against curling up on the couch with a nice notebook and a favourite pen!


  3. I too,read my poetry and prose aloud, sometimes to the point of tiring of the sound my own voice! Be it perfectionism or O.C.D…..( my inter-cranial jury is still out on that one!)…the inevitable changes and re-changes are so much easier since the invention of the home computer. Yet somehow, I am still drawn to the old fashioned way of self expression- by putting pen to paper.

    Now……where did I put that whiteout ???

  4. Heh heh… I don’t read my work aloud enough, either.

    Writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant of, says she reads *everything* out loud before it goes out, and she’s been in the business for her whole life. If anyone could rip something off without checking it first it would be her, so I figure that should be a lesson to me…

    And, I just keep re-hearing my son’s words, “I had no idea what I was trying to say — and I was the one who wrote it! It all made perfect sense in my head…”

    Wisdom from the mouths of “babes!” (He’s 17… sorry Son, it’s an old expression…)



  5. I should read more of my stuff out loud. I know this on an intellectual level but for some reason I still don’t do it. I get tripped up regularly. Since you are offering helpful hints, do you have any ideas on how to trick myself into reading out loud? 🙂

  6. Funny how different it can sound. I read this post aloud, and had to fix at least a half-dozen “trippy” bits! And even then, after I posted it, I realized I’d somehow deleted the space between two of the sentences… now fixed…

    (Should I have posted an errata statement at the bottom for that? I think not… save that for really important updates… but what do you think?)

  7. Good advice – I also read a lot of my stuff out loud. Especially poetry. But also a good idea for essays, articles, etc…