Reading Aloud

Publish date:

This week, we spent almost all of the 4.5 hours of my Tuesday night class sharing our writing. It always amazes me how much unspoken feedback you can get just from noticing the atmosphere in the room when your work is being read out loud.

If the story is working, the silence in the room is palpable. There's a stillness; an intensity, and you can almost feel people listening closely. When it's not working, people fidget. They discreetly check their watches. They stifle yawns. Even though we're all polite to one another, the body signals don't lie.

The program at Columbia does not run a traditional workshop where your work is read in advance by your classmates and then critiqued. We don't even have copies of student work in front of us when we listen to it, so most of the time when your work is read aloud, people are hearing it for the first time. And first impressions are often dead-on.

It's always interesting to see what those first impressions reveal. Sometimes people will laugh at parts that you didn't intend to be funny (which can be a good thing), and sometimes they won't laugh at parts that you did (which can't). Sometimes they'll pick up on things you didn't even realize you were doing, and other times they'll miss things you thought you'd made clear.

It took me a long time to become comfortable with hearing my work read aloud and then discussed, but now I find it invaluable. The feedback I get in class, both spoken and unspoken, can reveal more to me about a story than I'd ever be able to figure out on my own.

If you're in an MFA or writing group, I'm curious as to what kinds of workshop methods you've used. How does workshopping affect your revision process?


The 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 WD Poetry Awards!


Your Story #113

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

Author E.J. Levy discusses her journey with drafting and redrafting her historical fiction novel, The Cape Doctor, and why her first draft was her best draft.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 569

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an "In the Name of Blank" poem.

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover Reveal

The July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest features a collection of articles about writing for change plus an interview with Jasmine Guillory about her newest romance, While We Were Dating.

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Lacie Waldon: On Writing What You Know ... But Keeping it Interesting

Debut novelist Lacie Waldon discusses how her agent encouraged her to write what she knew, but then her editor made her realize that what she thought was boring might not be the case.

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Pedal vs. Peddle (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use pedal and peddle with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Marissa Levien: On Pinning Down Your Novel's Middle

Debut author Marissa Levien discusses how she always knew what the beginning and the end of her science fiction novel The World Gives Way would be, but that the middle remained elusive.