I know this is cheating. Posting two writing morsels today does not mean I kept my end of the bargain. But it's a one woman show here at the blog...and sometimes that woman needs to sit her butt on a beach with a cold beer and no MacBook in sight. And while I had every intention of making it up to you on Monday, American Airlines thought it would be better for me to spend the night in O'Hare. This was no doubt my karmic punishment for ignoring you. So in order to buy your affection, I offer a double dose of Just Write on this fine...Tuesday (hangs head in shame).
I always tell people to read their work out loud. Not a muttering, under the breath sort of out loud. Rather, I encourage all stripes of writers to say the words as if you're speaking to a small group of people--loud enough for them to hear you on the other side of the table, but casually enough that it sounds like conversation rather than a rehearsed speech. Sentences that seem perfectly sensible and eloquent on the page will often sound stilted or wrong once read aloud. As this writing exercise from Ursula Le Guin and the corresponding words of encouragement from Dinty Moore show, I'm not terribly original in dispensing this advice.
Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect--any kind of sound effect you like--but NOT rhyme or meter.
This is a read-aloud piece--performance prose. It won't ever be printed. Write for children, if that's the only way you can give yourself permission to do it. Whatever you do, have fun, cut loose, play around with word sounds and rhythms. Make what happens happen in the sounds of the words, the rhythms of the sentences. Say it aloud, as you write and/or after you write.
--Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft (The Eighth Mountain Press, 1998)
Once you've completed the exercise, follow this advice from the fabulous Dinty Moore:
Listen to what you have written. Listen for meaning. Listen for sound. Listen for the unexpected reverberations.
By listening, of course I don't mean sitting in silence and just "hearing the words" in your head. I heartily advise reading your words out loud, as you write them, after the first draft, and again after the tenth and twentieth draft.
So the cat can hear as well.
So that the neighbors worry you are talking to ghosts.
Even if at first the awkwardness of what you have written makes you cringe--read your words aloud, and listen.
Trust your ear.
--Dinty W. Moore, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life (Wisdom Publications, 2012)