Reading Aloud

Within six months of starting my first job as an engineer in 1966, I was required to give a presentation on some work I was doing at a customer review.  I’m sure I was a nervous wreck but what I remember most was the praises of my supervisor for my delivery.  In engineering, just as the ability to write clearly guarantees lots of opportunities to write proposals and reports, the ability to stand in front of an audience, (apparently) unflappable as you  clearly explain complex technology assures that you will be frequently recruited for important presentations.  Early in my career, I would outline the words to go with my viewgraphs and rehearse my pitch over and over.  But as years passed, I found my presentations were more natural if I just made sure I understood the material then spoke without over-rehearsing.  A mentor taught me the trick of anticipating customer questions as a means of appearing to come up with answers spontaneously.  Besides technical presentations, I’ve given speeches at special events and spoken at many 12-Step speaker meetings.   I even read some of my fiction at a poetry reading at a local coffee house.  If you give me a topic and two minutes, I’ll speak for half an hour on it.   That is to say I am comfortable in front of an audience.

None of the above prepared me for my first time reading to a Critique Group while I was working on my certificate in creative writing at Cal State Fullerton. After years of telling myself I could be an author, I would be Reading Aloud to a dozen others who were telling themselves the same thing … and they’d not only be listening to my efforts, but offering constructive criticism.  I’d had my engineering work reviewed critically many times but engineering reports weren’t personal  … equations were just equations, but I poured myself into my first attempts at fiction.  It might not be great fiction but that was my blood was on the page.   I wondered, how would I handle criticism and would anything feel constructive when we were talking about my babies?   It turned out that most of us were neophytes, defensive about what we’d written.  Fearing criticism, we’d introduce our piece something like this:  Well, this is a very rough draft and I only put the finishing touches on it last night.  I’m not sure I like the theme and I’m probably going to drop Rob, the brother, from the story.   The instructor, Patricia McFall, nicknamed such soliloquies Dogshit Speeches, as in, This piece is dogshit but I’m going to read it anywaySkip the Dogshit Speech, she’d say, and read your work.  Egos being what they are (mine and everyone elses), I sometimes went home angry or discouraged.   They don’t understand what I’m trying to do, I’d think, but more often than not, even the most annoying critic would help improve what I’d read.   After all, dental work can be constructive, too.   Later on, a small group of us who liked each other’s work formed our own Critique Group … coincidentally, none of the Big Egos were included.  Funny … without the Big Egos, our group had a tendency to be more of a Mutual Admiration Society than a Critique Group.  Hmmm.

That was a long time ago.  The Friday before last, I was posting Terrorist Squirrels when my son came downstairs and sat at the table where I was working.  He doesn’t get to see much of my quirky humor in our day-to-day conversations, so sometimes, I’ll print one of my curmudgeonly posts and leave it for him to read.   On this Friday, I began to read Terrorist Squirrels aloud to him from my laptop screen.  Yes, he thought it was funny.  But the point is that the experience reminded me how much I enjoy reading my work aloud.   It gives me a better sense the rhythm of the words and how it flows.   Awkward phrasings that slipped right by on the screen show up when read aloud.  I think I’ve become a better editor of my posts because I try to read them aloud in my head   But it’s not the same.  If I read aloud to myself in my office, will Muri have me committed?  Maybe there’s a Critique Group for bloggers nearby.

What’s your experience with Reading Aloud?

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3 Comments on “Reading Aloud”


  1. “the experience reminded me how much I enjoy reading my work aloud. It gives me a better sense the rhythm of the words and how it flows. ”

    I always, ALWAYS, read my stuff aloud before posting it.

  2. Jeni Hill Ertmer Says:

    Doing that does generally give one a better sense of the flow and substance to a piece. I should do that but time and/or simple laziness take hold way too often.

  3. territerri Says:

    I have never comprehended the ability to be comfortable in front of a group… speaking no less. I’m not so much uncomfortable with the idea. I’m terrified. I always admire those who can stand up there and appear to relate to everyone who is listening.

    Maybe I can’t speak in front of a group because out loud, my voice refuses to sound the way it sounds when I’m reading aloud inside my head.


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