Tuesday, February 5, 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!


  1. Great post! I also find reading aloud really useful when preparing for storytelling sessions. Again, it sounds really obvious to have to practise reading out loud in preparation for, well, reading out loud, but it still felt really odd doing it. As you rightly say though, it showed me which words I was likely to stumble over and which ones I could pause on to allow extra-sumptious listening (or joining-in) fun, as well as exactly how long it was going to take me to read each book.
    Anyway, I know your post was written from the point of view of a writer, so my comments aren't directly relevant, but at lot of what you said made sense for me too. Plus, I love the thought of all you talented authors reading your work out loud and picking the most delicious phrases for us to enjoy - we readers are very grateful for the time and effort you put into creating all those brilliant stories :-)

  2. It is a useful thing to do, even when writing these blog posts. Definitely helps when writing anything that rhymes to find out whether a piece 'flows' or not. I actually love Michelle's talent for giving her books just the right sort of snuggly 'tone' to settle down with, quite a contrast to imagining her hollering "GOODNIGHT DIGGER" Tarzan style :)

  3. All relevant comments are relevant! It's not just about 'being a writer', reading aloud all kinds of things - not necessarily your own writing - can be a really helpful exercise. Sometimes I have to read something out loud a few times to help me understand it, like a news article or something. Or if I've composed an email, I read it aloud to make sure it all comes across as it ought to, because it's so easy to be misconstrued when dashing something off. Odd but true. Or maybe I'm just bonkers.

  4. There are some great books to read aloud out there. A couple of my favourites are Grill Pan Eddie and Super Worm. For me it's all about the meter when I'm reading out kids books. The Hairy McLary books work very well too.


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