Readers Who Listen

The Passed Note is a YA literary magazine.

“To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.”

“Read your writing out loud.”

–said every teacher ever (including me)

I can’t properly source either statement, because these are the sort of sentences belonging to everyone and no one all at once.

Let’s atend to one statement at a time.

Up first: To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.

I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew. At seven, I kept a Scooby Doo flashlight hidden under my pillow. When my parents said goodnight and turned off the light, I’d switch the flashlight on, pull the current Nancy Drew novel from my nightstand, crack open the spine, and fit in just one more chapter. Basically, I was the picture of elementary school rebellion.

The act of reading became tethered to my identity. I’ve always carried a book in my bag just in case. The more I read, the more I felt connected to the world. How authors phrased things became just as important to me as what adventure unfolded. Throughout high school and undergrad, I still read as many YA novels as I could. I swear, it made me a better student.

In other words, constantly reading allowed me to better understand tone, the emotional impact of syntax, mood and character development. I saw structure pull through. Learning structure became useful not only to my academic writing, but also to my creative writing. It was like I’d been made aware that writing was, in fact, a conversation and some one had invited me to participate.

The Drum Roll: Read your writing out loud.

But then a strange thing happened; time for reading for pleasure seemed to evaporate as I started grad school (round 1). Finding a balance between school, work, and social obligations felt like enough of a strain. No matter how I tried to maneuver my schedule, locating time to work through my rapidly growing stack of untouched YA novels felt like an impossible task.

The first year of my MA program was the first year I didn’t feel like a reader anymore.

So there I was, feeling alienated from a key part of the way I’d always navigated the world.

Then I discovered Audible. Or rather, a friend in the office where I was working, another woman who always identified as being a reader, recommended the app to me. She’d had a similar experience and Audible allowed her to still “read.”

Audio books had a distinctly middle school feel to me. As she explained how the app worked, I had a flashback to my sixth grade language arts class, sitting at a round table in a dimly lit room, the narrator of the short story monotone.

My friend assured me that audio book exposure was not representative of the genre–and certainly nothing like to the YA books she’d listened to.

Desperate for narratives that were not assigned to me, I decided to give it a go.

To say this was a game-changing moment is such an understatement. The first book I downloaded was Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Gaiman also narrated. I found myself captivated by language in a whole new way.

From there, I took a chance on Sarah J. Maas’s newly released Throne of Glass novel narrated by Elizabeth Evans. That was when I was sold. (Sidebar: who else is ready for the Chaol’s story?) I listened to Jennifer Ikeda narrate Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns Series and eventually committed to a monthly membership. Suddenly, I’d collected more YA audio books than I had bound physical copies. I “read” more often than I had in years.

I like to say I experience books now. I’m a reader always, but conventional ways of reading don’t always work. I listen to YA books as I workout, clean my apartment, and walk to campus. I listen on long drives, and sometimes, I’m sad when my trip is over because I want just a few more minutes in that world. Hearing the stories, the way that language flows and then scenes crystallize, feels a bit like magic. If a story can be read aloud and is engaging, then it’s probably a good story.

I read all of my (academic) papers and poems aloud. I used to just read aloud to catch silly little errors–missing words and typos–that sort of thing. That is a necessary step in polishing a draft. Now, I read my writing aloud to also understand the flow better, to make sure there is a poetic pull.



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