Make Some Noise: Voicing Our Written Words

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Writers should talk more. We write to make ourselves heard. We use writing to tell a story, contribute to conversations, add our voices to a chorus, raise the alarm against injustice, call for help. Readers, then, look for a strong voice from authors or get emotional over a text that speaks to them. In each of these cases, text evokes a sound. Indeed, the very word audience originates from the Latin word meaning “to hear”, same as audio. Writing allows us, in a fashion, to hear words and language. As we read, we recreate what the words might sound like, rather than exactly how they sounded to the writer. Reading transforms print into sound, even if it’s all internal.

This is a call for authors to make more noise with their writing. I mean that literally: Use vocal sounds to convey words, not just text. Let readers become listeners. Tell your story to their ears—spoken word demands a synchrony of attention that written words cannot duplicate. When confronted with written text, we can skip, skim, scan, and speed-read. With audible speech, we can skip to a different spot in a recording, but we lose all the content we skipped; there’s no way to get an overview of spoken text. While at first this may seem a limitation, I believe the opposite: Spoken text offers an opportunity for a richer involvement with the text than the printed word can. Jonathan Sircy will discuss this idea in the context of teachers reviewing student papers in an upcoming article on Hybrid Pedagogy. In it, he will explain how listening to student work creates a more genuine appreciation of student texts.

Writing teachers, especially those in K-12 schools, often work to help their students develop a voice in their writing. (I would argue that academic writing is often specifically intended to eliminate that voice, but that’s an issue for another time.) Writers who express their voice use words distinctly and purposefully, crafting a unique style recognizable as their own. But why do we limit ourselves like this? Our perception of writing should expand to include the spoken, not just the written, word. We deserve to hear one another’s meaning.

The sound of language helps readers. I’ve been an avid fan of audiobooks for decades; my blind grandfather got me hooked on them, often bragging that he could read a book while doing the dishes while those who used their eyes to read couldn’t pull off the same trick. Audiobooks take the written word back to the oral tradition of storytelling, allowing the narrator to infuse the text with expressiveness and emotion that, for all the wonder of written language, is nonetheless challenging to capture in print. Think how much texture and richness are added to poetry when it’s read aloud. The sound of words endows language with beauty and meaning. Those of us who read books with our ears hold a dual-layer appreciation for the text, and it baffles me when people claim—as I often hear—that listening to an audiobook isn’t “real” reading. Listening to text is more real than reading it.

I’m also a huge fan of podcasts, listening to them in my car any time I don’t have an audiobook queued up. Unlike traditional radio programs, which require an audience to listen at the same time as the program is broadcast, podcasts allow the audience to listen to a program on their own schedule, with a caveat: The program still takes the same amount of time to listen to regardless of when it is played back. Timing is integral to audio programs; good programs captivate audiences with well-timed narrative and keep listeners involved in the audible world they present.

Speaking of timing, silence is underrated. When we tell stories to our friends, we pause at certain points and rush at others, to help deliver the story the way we intend. Audible storytellers need to keep in mind that their audiences might need a moment for something to sink in. Silence is also a foreign concept for people who work in text. While paragraph breaks or visual dividers do a little to affect the speed at which readers experience writing, there is no way with the written word to force readers to stop and ponder an idea. Audio, though, needs to account for necessary time to think. Audio storytellers need to embrace silence on occasion so that listeners can digest.

Audible texts create an intimacy that doesn’t exist in print. This document is a call for more of that intimacy. The spoken word works because the speaker makes vibrations in the air, which then tickle follicles of hair in the listener’s ear. Even if that sound is recorded by microphone, translated to 1s and 0s, saved as an audio file, transmitted over the internet, and played back through a set of headphones, whoever first spoke the words in that recording ultimately affected the listener in a physical way: Spoken words move people. As Anne Fernald put it in an episode of Radiolab, “sound is…touch at a distance.” I challenge you to do more to touch your audience more intentionally. Let’s get intimate with our words.

Take out your microphones, raise your voice, and make some noise.


[Photo, “Abstracted”, by Fio licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.]

Message in a Bottle Prompt

Close up of black dogOver the next several days, much of the nation will be gripped in a polar vortex. Flights will be cancelled. Snow will pile up; bitter cold and ice storms will wreak havoc. Loved ones will be stuck inside. There’s no better time to practice sending messages — of humor, support, wisdom, frankness, or love. And there’s no better way to send those messages than through the digital tools at our fingertips.

This weekend, November 15th and 16th, your challenge is to create unique audio messages that you can or would broadcast. Use Soundcloud or another recording app. Or push even further using Highlight (for iPhone and iPad) to annotate your audio messages with text and image. Record spontaneously, script yourself, sing a song, read a favorite poem… Choose whatever sort of message you want to send, and who you’re going to send it to.

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Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

Jen Yates used to be a Jungle Cruise skipper, a cash office accountant, a children’s book inventory expediter, a house painter, and a clown — not necessarily in that order. Today she’s a blogger, which she says is kind of like “clown” and “expediter” mashed together. You can find her writing at Cake Wrecks and Epbot. Today Jen lives in Orlando with her hubby, John, and their cats Tonks and Lily. She enjoys dessert first, as well as quoting Ghostbusters and The Princess Bride. A lot.

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Half-Baked Writing Tips From The Cake Wrecks Lady

by Jen Yates

About two months after I started my “funny little cake blog” back in 2008, it went viral. In a single day, Cake Wrecks went from less than 200 readers a day to over 50,000. It was the kind of thing every blogger dreams of: immediate, overnight success.

But after a day of being internet famous, I didn’t feel like celebrating. I just felt like crap.

I never set out to be a professional blogger. Heck, the only blog I’d read with any consistency up to that point was Cute Overload, and the only online writing I’d done was for a private journal – which my mom assures me wasn’t half bad. I didn’t understand online culture, I’d never heard of a meme, and I was completely unprepared for internet notoriety.

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When We Are Writers

Tiny mouseThere’s a thing I want to say. I heard it coming up when I was sitting in Starbucks yesterday. Watching the sun and the people in the sun and thinking this was as good a place as any for a writer and a teacher to be composing his thoughts. And I was imagining composed thoughts — organized and clear and inspiringly meaningful. And instead I was watching a father and his young son have an argument. The four-year-old boy wanted to climb the back of the booth he was sitting on, and then he wanted to lay down on the seat. And the father wanted him to stop. Whichever he chose, just stop and be motionless. The only solution for the father was for his son to sit still, to sit down in the chair and behave as — well, as he himself was. In all his age and sediment. The argument grew to a boil, with the son never quite getting the sitting in the seat right and the father getting more upset each time. Finally at one point he reached over to grab his son’s knee, force him upright, and threatened to take away his cookie. Which he did. Which he did because the boy didn’t obey. The boy couldn’t find it in his small legs and busy hands to sit still. And away went the cookie. And on came the tears.

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Maggie’s Digital Content Farm

Audrey Watters is an education writer (at Hack Education and elsewhere), recovering academic, serial dropout, and part-time badass.

Porcelain figurineMaggie’s Digital Content Farm

by Audrey Watters

Over the course of the last 6 months or so, I’ve felt a real shift in what it means (for me) to write – to work, to be – online. And let’s be clear: this affects me offline too.

I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the great promises of the Web – freedom! knowledge! access! egalitarianism! creativity! revolution! – are more than a little empty. I’m hardly the first or the only person to notice that the online communities in which we participate increasingly feel less friendly, less welcoming, more superficial, more controlling, more restrictive.

Online, we seem to be more and more short-tempered and sharp-tongued. It feels less and less sustainable. It’s taking a toll on me, personally – the status updates, the sneers, the threats, the responsibilities, the accolades, the comments, the deadlines. All of it.

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Blogging Is A Choral Act

Bonnie Stewart writes memoir, academic papers, and social commentary non-fiction. She speaks about blogging, social media, digital identity, branding, 21st century education, grief, motherhood. And also, jellybeans. In this touching post, she relates how digital writing allows us to give voice to ourselves and to others, in sometimes unique and unexpected ways.

Blogging Is A Choral Act

by Bonnie Stewart

Photo by Benjamin A. Smith

I was going to start by saying that digital writing was, for me, a Pandora’s Box.

But that would not be fair, or true. The jar Pandora opened held the evils of the world; her act unleashed them into the commons forever.

My story is not such a cautionary tale.

Like Pandora, I learned that what is opened to the world cannot be closed again.

But unlike Pandora, I am not sorry.

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When I left the hospital for the first time after nearly three weeks of bedrest, it was raining. I’d been airlifted in during winter’s last April gasp, but in my hermetic isolation, the ground had transformed into a carpet of green. I was Rip Van Winkle, out of sync with time. Continue reading