For me, one of several casualties of the Great Recession was an annual trip to Atlanta, hosted by a missions agency that downsized me after a decade of writing for them.
I especially enjoyed the give-and-take with writers from around the nation and personnel there, who became friends even though we only saw each other once a year.
It was on my next-to-last trip that I gleaned a number of insights that still help guide my writing nearly eight years later. Ironically, this informal, one-hour conference wasn’t even on the schedule; the editor who led it offered it as an optional session for those who weren’t involved in writing a particular piece of curriculum.
I took notes that afternoon and pasted them on my office wall as regular reminders of good writing techniques. Tips like nudging reluctant interview subjects by asking questions about their favorite subject: themselves. Namely, their hopes, dreams, children, jobs and aspirations.
Another was imparting principles by focusing on the takeaway value. Namely, what readers could do with the information, how they could participate, and how they would be moved to action once they finished.
The principle that most helped regarded how good writing involves active voice, tight sentences, and planned breaks.
Though I had heard the latter idea before, the conference emphasized the need to leave a first draft alone for at least three days before going back over it. Thanks to not looking at it for a while, mistakes become more obvious in the re-editing.
Then came the payoff. I jotted down: “Reading it aloud will also help bring out the flaws. Seeing and hearing the words will help you crystalize the meaning.”
I never knew how much reading copy out loud would help until I started doing it. As a somewhat shy, reserved person (something I am trying to address by recently joining Toastmasters), this doesn’t come naturally. Even today, I still find myself occasionally lapsing into silent mode on second or third reviews.
Value of verbalization
The value of reading out loud is how it makes flubs, awkward phrasing, and strange alliteration more apparent than reviewing with one’s eyes.
Recently, in editing a blog for a client in the Boston area, I had distilled some background information into a list of five qualities that are common to a certain profession. One was “Disciplined: Manages their time, sets benchmarks, and meets quotas.”
As I did my second review, I decided to amend the beginning to: “Knows how to...” Until I read it out loud, I didn’t realize that I had failed to then change all the verbs from plural to singular usage.
Knowing how nuanced writing can be, and that there are no iron-clad guarantees, I can still say with confidence that speaking your drafts out loud will offer similar benefits. I only wish I had discovered it before 2009.
Many of you reading this are pastors and may not have the reticence that sometimes holds me back. But you may want to try this with your next sermon. The fumbling phrase, strange-sounding comparison, or humor that seemed funny on paper but falls flat verbally may emerge in a way that a silent reading won’t produce.