Writing Tip: Write with Your Ears

Written by Brandon O'Brien on July 5th, 2013

Writing in a natural voice is important for every writer, and finding your voice can be a lifelong pursuit. (Personally, I don’t feel like I’m quite there.) But it is especially important—and sometimes especially difficult—for people who speak publicly for a living. These days it’s typical for someone to become a writer because they’ve already become well known as a gifted communicator. Whether pastors or professors or politicians, people who speak publicly for a living have an audience of folks who like what they have to say and like the way they say it. This makes them a publisher’s dream.

But a speaker who is well-liked because they have a distinctive way of communicating can often find it difficult to translate their naturally distinctive voice from the pulpit or lectern to the printed page.

One way I find my voice in print is to read everything I write out loud. Reading aloud accomplishes several things at once. It helps me catch awkward phrasing or identify places I need to vary sentence length to maintain a readable pace. It helps me identify passages that are redundant or unnecessary. Most important for present purposes, reading aloud also helps me achieve a natural writing voice, because it forces me to identify words on the page or turns of phrase that I would probably not use in normal speech.

Friends and family tell me that when they read my writing, they can “hear” me saying the words. This is good news. It’s also really hard work. Typically, my first couple drafts of anything are stilted and unnatural. It takes several drafts before I begin to sound like myself. Typically the first step in the right direction is when I stop writing with my eyes and start writing with my ears.


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