In 1990, I attended a summer camp for children with talent in art — I applied to the writing division and was quite pleased to be accepted. It was a sort of validation that came with the knowledge that somebody that wasn’t extremely biased (my family) actually thought that my writing was better than average. I spent many hours writing and rewriting stories, short plays, monologues, character sketches, and just about any other form of fiction that you can imagine.

One of the most important lessons I got out of the experience came to me one day when I was reviewing something I had written with one of the other students in the program. I gave it to him to read — I believe it was supposed to be a short story with a focus on the dialogue. After looking it over for a few minutes, he smiled and gave it back to me.

I looked at him and said, “So what do you think?” He looked at the notebook I had given him and looked back and handed it over. “Read it out loud to me.” I must have had a confused look on my face because he said it again. “Just read it out loud, slowly and carefully.”

I started to read it out loud and at a certain section of the dialogue, I just stopped mid-sentence. “Wait a minute,” I said, “That doesn’t sound right.”

“So what should the character say to make it sound right, then?” I thought of a couple of different ideas and said them out loud. Both sounded a lot more natural and normal for an actual conversation than the stilted swamp of words I had thrown together.

I kept on reading it out loud and discovered that there were a few places where the dialogue looked great as I had written it based on the intricate thought process in my mind. Once it was processed outside of my own head — a place where people have no access to the spider web of logic that lead up to the exact phraseology — it was confusing and obtuse.

The lesson I learned that day was invaluable, and I continue to use it to this day — I read most of this article out loud and changed a couple of sections of it for clarification.

The important thing to keep in mind is that we create art — plays, stories, articles, etc. — for understanding of the outside mind, not just our own. Otherwise, there would really be no use in even “exporting” it to a tangible format and we could just merrily review it in our own brain space.


  1. I super love this article, Gordon! The lesson is pure and simple and incredibly invaluable. You can also give your work to someone else to read aloud for you and you will hear it in an entirely different state that will likely demand even more changes!

  2. That’s so true, David. It’s almost like looking at a photograph of yourself after not seeing it in ages — who is that weird looking guy? Oh yeah, it’s me. 🙂

  3. I can’t tell you how many times I have listened to recordings and thought, do I really sound that whiney? Like those livejournal posts by audio…

  4. I agree, nothing helps like reading out loud to modify/ alter something…
    In fact, on a second thought – I think reading something out loud helps it to remember it well too. Indian school system doesn’t have an open book/ open note exam method – we needed to mug up everything in the syllabus, reading out loud used to work pretty well, mostly when the subject was tough enough…

  5. It is, indeed, a good way to learn. I think that explains why you will see a lot of students involved in learning more advanced Jewish topics reading from the book out loud, even if they are alone. Looks a bit odd but it works!

  6. Thank for this advice. It is helpful to be embarrassed by your writing when read out loud. Helps make it more real.

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