Are you sitting comfortably?
You know when you stumble across something online that’s so brilliant, you just want to kiss the internet? That happened to me the other week when I found a recording of Truman Capote reading out an extract from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It’s one of my favourite books, so I know the bit he’s reading very well. (Conveniently for the purposes of this post, the narrator is reading out one of his short stories to Holly Golightly, an irony Capote exploits for laughs about six minutes in.)
But hearing Capote read it out in his distinctive high-pitched drawl – and the audience’s delighted reaction – really brought it to life for me again. He had brilliant comic timing, so lines that just tweak the corners of your mouth when you’re reading it to yourself become proper laugh-out-loud moments.
At The Writer, we’re always telling people to read their writing out: it’s the best way to tell if something’s wrong with it. Running out of breath before you get to the end of a sentence? It’s too long. Putting on a funny voice? The tone’s not quite right. (I should probably point out that Capote wasn’t putting on a funny voice – that’s just the way he spoke.) But I must admit I’d really got out of the habit.
Then last month I went on a creative business writing course called Dark Angels. Reading your work out to the rest of the group is very much part of the Dark Angels philosophy. I found it quite nerve-wracking at first. But after a few days of doing it three or four times a day, I began to enjoy it, and to enjoy hearing other people’s work, too.
On the last night, we all read each other our final pieces. It was an incredibly moving experience – not just because the writing was great (though it really was), but also because sitting and listening to people reading aloud felt deliciously primitive. A big old fire, a glass of wine, hearing different stories told in different voices – just like humans have done for thousands of years.
So next time you write something, try reading it out. (Even if it’s just to the cat.) To check it reads well, yes. But also for the sheer pleasure of it.
And if you need more inspiration, there are loads more recordings of great writers reading their work on this blog post.