“I think I could pick out the best writers in a strange city room by those who write with their lips moving.”
Here’s a simple technique I’ve been playing with: Reading your words aloud or mouthing them as you are actually writing them down. This approach is working well for me, so I want to pass it on. I first came across this “tool” when I read Edna Ferber’s autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure. According to Edna, “You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken.”
Edna was a prolific and genre-jumping writer: She wrote short stories, novels, and several hit plays still widely performed today. One of her best-known works, Showboat, was the inspiration for the groundbreaking musical by the same name. But before she became a popular writer and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize for So Big, Edna was a journalist. She started out on a small paper, The Appleton Crescent, as a teenager.
In describing her reporting days, Edna said that she and another reporter shared an unusual writing habit: They would “talk” their stories as they were typing them. (See Writing Aloud). This really caught my attention, because we hear a lot about reading our drafts aloud once they’re finished, but I’d never really thought of reading my words aloud in the moment, as I was writing them.
I’ve started working with this technique and it’s really having an impact: It’s making my words and sentences flow more naturally and rhythmically, which is exactly what I want. It also instantly highlights awkward phrasings, allowing me to eliminate them by rewriting them right away. I’ve also found that it alerts me to repetitive sentence constructions. The big payoff: Adopting this approach leads to a more polished draft.
I’m going to really focus on paying attention to this with the goal of turning it into a habit. If I practice this technique consistently, I believe it will become second nature and sharpen my writing style. Why not try it yourself and see if it works for you? It’s simple, but powerful. Write on!