Some months back I heard about a local open mic and reading series called Two Hour Transport, focused on science fiction and fantasy. The invited writers were local and generally not rock stars on book tours, but people who’d had a certain amount of professional success. I’d at least heard of most of them, even if I hadn’t read their work.
I like doing readings. I mean I get massively nervous and often wonder whether it was a good idea to sign up and all of that, but that’s just stage fright. If I don’t get up in front of people occasionally I start to wonder if I can really do it, even though I’ve been teaching for over a decade and have done some acting as well. I’m nowhere near well known enough to be invited to read anywhere, so open mics it is. And one geared toward SF is perfect for me. Seattle has quite the community of SF writers, something I haven’t taken nearly enough advantage of in the time that I’ve lived there, and one of my mentors recently emphasized the importance of networking since I’ve just about finished the book. Plus, it’s just nice to read for like-minded folk, and hear their work as well. Everything I heard at last night’s Two Hour Transport, open mic and invited alike, was at least good, and some of it was very good indeed.
The other reason to read one’s work aloud, though, is that it highlights improvements that you probably won’t happen upon otherwise. It’s easy to forget that stories were oral before they were written–though now, with the ubiquity of digital media, we are perhaps beginning to remember this–and there’s immense value in hearing one’s story even if the principal way that people will consume it is through reading it in silence. In some sense we’re still “hearing” it, even if we’re not doing so consciously.
The excerpt I read last night was from “People of the Wild”, which was published earlier this year in Persistent Visions (and check out the awesome art they paired with it!). Even though it had been drafted, revised, critiqued, and had the magazine’s editors’ eyes on it (I read from the published version), I found myself making tiny tweaks to the excerpt as I read: smoothing out a phrase here, omitting an unnecessary word there. Huge changes, no, and nothing that would have substantively changed a reader’s experience of the story. But sometimes, if a paragraph or sentence feels awkward, or something about a scene doesn’t seem to be flowing, or the whole thing’s pacing seems off, reading the text out loud can pinpoint the problem quicker and more effectively than any number of beta readers and red pens.
I’m working on making reading aloud part of my process. Every writer’s process is different so I’m not going to assert that everyone needs to do this. But I’ve gotten good results with it. So might you.