The Barely Literate Species:

Why you should read your writing out loud. 

It’s solid gold rewriting advice: read it out loud. When you do you activate strong magic. You immediately hear where what you wrote needs improvement. (Or, if you’re anything like me, where it dips into utter gibberish.) But why is this the case? Consider a simple timeline. 

Language has been around far, far longer than writing. Which is just crazy if you think about it. Because it means that our species existed without a reliable memory for roughly 2 million years. Nothing written down. No directions, no recipes, no tell all memoirs. Everything was transmitted via an oral tradition. 

As an aside, this is where rhyme and meter come from. A rhyme scheme in a poem gives you a kind of a checksum. So if you forget a line or two, you can recreate them based on the fragments you remember. Start with “There once was a man from Nantucket” and the form of limerick and you can get to NSFW territory with no trouble at all. But this is only part of the story. Let’s zoom in on the very end of the timeline. The little bit that is a rounding error in geologic time, but pretty much everything for us.

Notice, that for most of human history, reading and writing were the domain of an exclusive few. Priests and scribes mostly. And almost nothing was written in a language that ordinary people could understand even if they could have read. 

Your Eye is Smarter than Your Ear Because It’s Had More Practice. 

We aren’t evolved to read and write. In a very real sense, it’s against our nature and is — no matter how good you are at it — an uphill battle. That’s why in my coaching and classes, I always encourage people not to make it any harder than it needs to be. (A fear of grammar and a disregard for the audience are two ways that even the smartest people can do this when they sit down to write.)

But when you read it out loud then millions of years of evolution are on your side. We need that kind of help. Now more than ever. Because in less the space of a generation writing clearly and well has gone from a skill that was nice to have for most jobs, to a threshold skill that can stop your career dead in it’s tracks, or prevent it from even getting started. As Exhibit A, may I present LinkedIn. 

So go ahead, read it out loud. And if people look at you funny because you are talking to yourself. Remember, no matter what they might be like at work, in geologic time, they’re monkeys. 

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