Sunday, September 23, 2012

When Writing Must Outshine Your Speaking Skills

You wrote your pitch and read it to your critique group. You changed it and read it again. You polished it, and then rehearsed it countless times in front of a mirror. You attended a writers’ conference and gained a ten-minute appointment with an editor. Eureka! The editor requested a proposal along with chapters or samples of your work.

You followed the editor’s instructions with the exactness of an atomic clock, but you never heard from the editor again.

What happened? An experienced writer could come up with dozens of possible reasons.

One possibility: your speaking abilities outstrip your writing skills. You stress the right words. You modulate your voice perfectly. Somehow, you innately know when to pause to let a point sink in, and when to quicken the pace past transitional phrases. Your voice is strong but not loud. It’s moderately low, but never sounds monotone.

Back in your critique group, members pass out copies of their work for the day. Then, in turn, each reads his or her work out loud. Your fellow members must appreciate your writing, because they rarely mark anything negative on your papers.

Of course they don’t. For one thing, it is next to impossible for a group member to write adequate comments, much less include suggestions to improve a phrase, while listening to a reader. By the time the member critiques one sentence, the reader may be on another page. Furthermore if you are one who could read the phone book and make it sound good, few who listen will hear mistakes.

Do read your work out loud. Read it to the dog, your mother, or a friend willing to listen. Your ear will often catch errors your eye skips. Also, it’s great practice should you ever be asked to read your work in an interview before a signing.

But before that interview comes publication, and before that is likely dozens of query letters to publishers or agents. You will not have the luxury of reading—making your work sound the way you think it should sound—to an agent or editor.

When you want a critique, let the group read in silence and mark suggestions without trying to listen and write at the same time. They will each hear your words with their inner ears. They’ll suggest changes that seem logical to them. It’s possible the rewrites you make at the urging of your group are what pulls your work together, and moves your manuscript from the slush pile into the possibility pile instead of the round file.  

© 2012, Bernice W. Simpson


  1. I enjoyed your post. Good advice!

  2. Thank you for reading it and thank you for the comment. I wasn't pleased with my opening, but since it doesn't contain typos or grammatical errors, I'll leave it as is. --b