Thursday, February 2, 2012

Let's Talk ... To Ourselves!

There's something intrinsically intriguing and reflective about speech. It kept a bunch of old Greek guys in togas busy for the better part of their lives, but that doesn't make it irrelevant to us fancy modern folk. When it comes to formalizing ideas and figuring out exactly what the heck is bouncing around that great big brain cavern of yours, conversation can be one of the biggest weapons in your arsenal. Today we're going too look at just how powerful one particular audience can be.


Yes, that's right. We're going to talk about talking to ourselves, specifically regarding how this will help your writing. Don't give me that look (or your screen, I guess). Hear me out before you dial 1-800-BONKERS. There is a lot of good that can come from listening to yourself. Vocalizing ideas always forces you to refine the abstract into something workable. Ever been in the middle of asking a question and came up with the answer halfway through?

Thought so.

Admittedly, sometimes this involves stumbling around blindly while you grapple in the darkness, totally unaware of what the heck you're really trying to say. Will the first thing you manage to spit out be the best possible way to represent that thought? Probably not. (Ever used this one? “Well, that's not exactly it, but you get what I mean")

Here's the great part, though -- once you find that first little hook, you can follow it. Explore it. Refine it. The further you take that initial little blob, the nicer and prettier it will become. Realizing you've come up with the wrong words can sometimes be just as helpful as coming up with the right ones (even though it's infinitely more frustrating). If you come up with a complete blank, you probably didn't really have a workable thought in the first place. Sometimes we feel things that are truly inexplicable, feelings or flashes of abstract thought that evoke emotion, but not word or form. Thinking this through out loud is one of the best ways to test that.

Besides, talking to yourself really isn't all that crazy. I totally have proof.

The stamp of approval from Leslie Nielson should be all you need.

Goofy as it sounds, I am absolutely serious about this. It's remarkable just how reflective thinking aloud can be, especially in brainstorming phases. There have been countless times in the Writing Center where I saw students scrambling for their pen because they said something that turned out to be pretty darn cool while we were chatting about their topics. Heck, it's happened to me in my own writing. Sure, the exact phrase may not end up in the final piece of writing, but when you manage to capture those little thoughts, you want to get them down on the page before they fade. Personally, I forget more ideas than I ever have in any given day.

That brings me to the second place where listening to yourself can be really beneficial – proofreading. When you're thinking about writing a term paper you don't use the exact same thought process as you do when you're engaged in a simple conversation. It's easy to throw words and phrases into a paper to make it sound more “academic,” but many times those can muddle up your flow. When you take the time to read your work to yourself, there's a good chance you'll be able to find these kinds of errors.

Your brain likes to lie to you. If you skim over your own writing, that lazy ol' blob of gray matter can fill in blanks as you go. Ever gotten a term paper back only to find you left out entire words or made silly typos, even though you would swear on the grave of your loveable family turtle you went over the dumb thing? You've got the stuff between your ears to thank for that.

Reading out loud forces to you pay attention to your work on two levels. Not only are you listening to the way it sounds, which can help with structure and flow, but you are also going to read the actual words on the page much more closely.

Don't let that liar of a brain fool you or confuse you with on-the-fly editing and abstract thoughts. Take control of your paper! Talk to yourself! Look crazy! Write better!   

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