I’d originally planned to write this blog entry about hypocrisy. No, I wasn’t going to wax political, despite the recent ubiquitous and nausea-inducing RNC and DNC coverage. (I’ll disclose only that I’m With Her.) Rather, I was going to talk about my own hypocrisy, which I’ve discovered anew this summer while working with a few students as their writing tutor.
I generally take my own advice about, say, “Show, don’t tell,” as well as reading, rereading, and rereading yet again the lede or opening paragraph or two of a piece to ensure the rest of the essay, story, profile, research brief, blog post (ahem) follows the thread introduced at the beginning.
But I’m not consistent at all about a directive I always give: Read your stuff out loud before you call it your final draft. This was advice I used to get -- from elementary through graduate school -- but rarely followed. Why not? Well, it seems silly; it feels awkward; it can come across like practicing oratory rather than preparing a piece whose reader will absorb it in silence. Yet it’s a crucial exercise, particularly as one nears the final draft of whatever piece he or she is working on.
When I listen to my writing students read out loud, I more easily hear awkward phrases, grammatical errors, and missed periods than they can; they already know exactly how their writing should sound. And yet, more often than not, the students themselves catch their own errors before I need to gently point them out. That’s terrific. Being able to self-edit is a wonderful skill and one that’s acquired only after lots of practice. (Let’s face it: It constantly requires practice and perfection even if one’s been self-editing for decades. I’d argue that self-editing one’s writing helps self-edit one’s mouth during polite conversation [or otherwise]. The mindset is similar; I personally work on both skills all the time. And may never perfect either. But I digress).
So why -- oh why? -- don’t I read my own stuff aloud with any consistency? See the reasons noted in the third paragraph from the top. Still, it’s wrong to be a hypocrite. But if I’m encouraging my students to read aloud to me from their writing -- the better to catch your errors with, m’dear -- and I don’t read my own written words out loud, then I’m practicing hypocrisy. We’re a good six months from New Year’s, but I can pledge now to reduce my hypocritical index by practicing at least one thing I preach: I will read my own work aloud in order to improve self-editing and, thus, the piece I’m writing.
I’m pretty good at following the rules, and I more often than not stick to my New Year’s resolutions. In fact, not sticking to such resolutions feels hypocritical itself, and I really hate being a hypocrite. So I’d better do myself -- and, by extension, my students -- a solid with my next assignment and wet my whistle before I hit “send” or “post.”
As mentioned above, I always re-read my lede and make sure I’ve followed the introductory idea through to the end. In doing so, I realize I offered a tease: I said I wasn’t going to write about hypocrisy, but I did. What I instead had planned to do an entry about was my recent experience at the Beaverton-based Department of Motor Vehicles, which I’d needed to visit two days in a row. That’s five hours of my life I’ll never get back. And I have more to say about the glorious government agency that is the DMV, but that will need to wait for my next blog post.
If you want to read my musings about the DMV, please reply to this email -- or Tweet 2B Writing Company, or “react” on Facebook -- and I thank you in advance for reading in the first place. If you don’t care what I think about the DMV, then remain silent. Sheez -- you don’t have to scream about it. (But you’re getting the hang of practicing sharing out loud.)