Tuesday 5 February 2013

Writing to Read Aloud - Guest post by Michelle Robinson, author of "Goodnight Digger" for #readitmummiesanddaddies2013

"Goodnight Tractor" by Michelle Robinson and Nick East (Puffin Books)

Writing to read aloud

Sharing books with children means reading aloud. You or your child - you and your child together - it’s a vital part of learning to read, and the more you do it as a kid, the more confident you’ll be as a grown up. If you want your writing to be heard and shared one day, start listening to it yourself, right now.

Excuse me while I give you a bit of backstory: When I was a kid I read a LOT. I was good at it, so my teacher very rarely asked me to read aloud. (He knew I could do it, so why bother wasting time on me when other kids needed attention?) As a result, I began to find reading aloud pretty terrifying. At university and in my first job, I would shake so much when I had to read in front of people that I could actually hear myself bleating like a nervous sheep. I had plenty of good stuff to say, but I lacked the confidence to voice it.

The best thing I ever did was to get my second job: writing radio ads. Not only did it mean I was constantly writing and developing my craft skills, it also forced me to face my Reading Aloud Demons. I had to present my work to both colleagues and complete strangers on a daily basis. If you want a client to buy what you’ve written, you’ve got to make a bloody good job of selling it. Within days I was sitting in an open plan office presenting scripts down the phone in loud, silly voices for all to hear. I once did a full volume Tarzan impression in a bathroom showroom. Seriously. I blushed while I did it, but I’d come to LOVE reading aloud. Handy, really, as it was a vital part of being good at my job.

Shout like Tarzan!

It still is, and I’m so glad of my time in radio. I now instinctively write to read aloud. I think about how long it takes to read one of my books from cover to cover - will people get bored? I dread that, so I make them as snappy as possible. How do words sound when placed next to one another - does anything make you tongue tied when spoken aloud? If so, it’s got to go. Does a sentence end too bluntly? Does a particular phrase come out clumsily unless you read it in one very specific way? Can I put two words together that are such a joy to say out loud they feel like a sweet in the mouth? (‘Bananas are rather tasty toasted’ - I’m still proud of that one, even though an extra word got slipped in during the editing process).

If you’re a writer, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve been advised to read your work aloud. I suspect you may be nodding along and thinking ‘Yes, good idea. I want my stories to be read aloud, so I ought to try it myself’. But will you actually go and do it? You must. As obvious as it may sound, it’s impossible to read aloud in your head. Do it at full speaking volume and at a natural pace. Don’t whisper or waffle your way through it. Why not record it, if you can bear listening to your own voice played back.

Don’t cheat. Like all aspects of critiquing your own work, it won’t get you anywhere - whereas if you can yell like Tarzan, well, let’s just say it hasn’t done me any harm. 

Michelle Robinson is the best-selling author of the "Goodnight" series of books, including "Goodnight Digger", "Goodnight Tractor" and the upcoming "Goodnight Princess" with illustrations by Nick East - published by Puffin Books. Described as one of the "rising stars of picture books", Michelle penned 5 books in 2012 with another 5 to come this year. Phew!