One of the best days for me in any writing project is the read-aloud session. I’ve found that if you want to experience something really special, you must read words out loud.
I don’t recall who turned me onto this technique, but except for rare exceptions, I insist on this with every client story I write. Why? Because when we read words out loud, it calls out odd phrasing that doesn’t sound authentic. This step helps us see typos. Also, reading the entire sitting over one or two days highlights sections that drag. It’s obvious what needs more emotion and what can be cut or combined as redundant. Not only do all these housekeeping notes matter but the process is enjoyable, even poignant, for everyone.
As a great overview of this topic, watch this video replay with my latest client, Rob A. Gentile. His book, Quarks of Light, became a #1 bestseller in no fewer than 13 categories. In this conversation, we discuss the magic of the read-aloud session when he flew to Utah from North Carolina and we spent several days reading together. (Related article: Rob A. Gentile shares about his near-death experience)
Note: scroll to the bottom of this article to read a full transcript of the conversation with Rob.
5 Reasons to Read Words Out Loud
1. Reading words out loud is an enjoyable, intimate experience.
As I mentioned, I don’t remember who tipped me off to this technique early in my writing, but I scheduled a whole summer weekend in Park City with my mom and my BFF, Megan, to read the draft of my mom’s book together. We checked into a condo and took turns reading the manuscript. We read the words out loud and I marked them up like a madwoman. I felt a sense of closeness to the two women who have influenced me more than any others.
It was my mother’s story (which would be published as Every Essential Element), and we stopped as needed so she could tell additional memories that came to her. As we read aloud, sometimes we paused so she could express concern over a section. It made the book much better and taught me a lot about how to improve my own writing.
Another experience was when I drove my Corolla with snow tires up the base of the mountain to spend several days in Norma Kier’s beautiful home. The evergreens were draped as though wrapped in chunky woolen scarves. It felt like a retreat for us to read the Remember When manuscript aloud together. By this time in the project, our friendship had blossomed into genuine affection for each other (I don’t hesitate to tell her I love her) and we enjoyed this time together. We are like girlfriends 40 years apart in age. The process felt wonderful and I relished all the times Norma stopped me to recall additional memories or add in details.
As we took a break for sandwiches, we looked out the window at white wonderland and fat flakes of snow falling. She told me about the day after her husband Jim Kier died. As they grieved, a bobcat appeared in the yard. It was the only time in all their years living there they saw such a magnificent animal, and it felt like a spiritual experience, as though even the animals sensed something wondrous happening. One of this world’s great souls had begun his journey to the world beyond. Norma pointed to me where the bobcat bounded over the fence without effort. Then we resumed reading out loud, and we shed tears together during the emotional parts.
2. Reading a story together out loud catches so many issues.
Reading a manuscript out loud is not all tender, though. We note typos, where words were omitted, and awkward phrasing. We take turns reading and keeping an eye out for errors. When I read words I have written out loud, some of what jumps out at me is the sheer nonsense of words that seem clever on my computer monitor, but are so overblown that I would be embarrassed if the world ever knew I had once written them.
I’ll share one example. In an early passage, I was looking for a good word to describe how Norma used to get bundled up to go out in the snow when she was a girl in Canada. I had gone through a list of synonyms in my head and had landed on “ensconced.” Seriously, Rhonda? When that word came out of my mouth I realized my pretentiousness. I settled on a word that wasn’t crying for attention like my 4-year-old when I am distracted by my phone.
3. Reading words out loud highlights voice.
Not only does reading a manuscript out loud point out odd or silly phrasing, it also highlights the voice. The goal when I help a client with a story is to write it so his or her voice rings true on the page. It should be written so nobody would ever suspect they had help. Every client has a unique voice and idioms particular to their generation and experience.
When I draft a client story, I like to include a few of their verbal tics, and especially their expressions, and phrasing. A cowboy will use different language than a doctor. A woman who came of age in the 50s will speak with a formality entirely different than younger generations. Whether to include swear words is usually a decision of personal taste, and speaking the words together calls the question. Read words out loud so you can be sure to be true to their voice.
4. Reading a family story out loud brings up real-world sensitivities before it is too late.
As a matter of practicality, in Norma’s case we scheduled the read-aloud session before we would give copies to her children to review. Sharing a manuscript with family members is nerve-wracking because if we get it wrong, not only will they roll their eyes but sometimes hurt feelings are hard to repair. I have learned to write early drafts with wild abandon, not worrying what other people will think but rather focusing on heart and emotion. In a later draft, however, it is important in a family history to read it and think about how others might feel about passages before they ever see a work-in-process. When we read the words out loud, it naturally brings what was only in our heads out into the real world, and we become mindful of these ramifications.
So, as a side note of caution to anyone writing family history, you will do well to expect that no matter how hard you try, there will be some unanticipated sensitivities. Do you have thick enough skin to take it? Can you set your ego aside in order to realize that family relationships are more important than your precious words?
When I wrote my family’s story, I touched some nerves in a way I did not see coming. Now as a professional, I expect it and do my best to take it without flinching. I simply read the words out loud, accept the feedback and remain true to my personal ethic that my purpose for writing is to bring families together, not drive wedges. I would never want to hurt someone or make anyone look bad.
Since I was raised in a family business, I know firsthand that families are funny social units. I also fully understand that every member of a family will have a different recollection of what happened and what it means. Whose memory is correct? When I write stories for publication, I get feedback from family members and work on a collective narrative that everyone can live with. That said, there are also times when I must stand firm next to the client whose voice the story is written in by saying at times, “This is her story. If you wish to write your version, I encourage you to do so.” It’s a delicate balance and requires some diplomacy.
If your personality cannot put yourself into the shoes of a child or sibling whose feelings you may hurt with your words, if you cannot see it from their perspective, if you are the kind of person who takes criticism by coming out swinging, then I caution you against writing about other people in stories you will publish. Write your own experiences and keep it to yourself. Publish it on FamilySearch with the settings as private until after you’re dead. Your relationships in the here and now are not worth letting your ego be in the driver’s seat.
As for me, I have learned that there is no predicting the ways reading words out loud might bring up old wounds, some of which may never have been voiced. Even if it might seem petty to an outsider, I listen with an open heart and do my best to take these conversations seriously. Once I am aware, I do my best to smooth it over, apologize for my own faux pas (The mistake is mine for not understanding, not the client’s!) and then I get to work editing as appropriate.
In a writer’s workshop I attended with Richard Paul Evans, he asked if a client has ever asked me to change anything. My response was, “Of course. This is for posterity and I would never want to hurt someone. And not everything a client tells me is appropriate for public consumption. Sometimes passages need to be reworded or taken out and that’s the right thing to do.”
5. Reading words out loud is poignant.
As I read one client’s book to him (David Young), his eyes were misty. Keep in mind that this is a 77-year-old man who lived a life of adventure. He has been a man’s man, yet the experience was emotional for him. The experience felt poignant for me too, and that is why the day we got to read it together may have been even better than the day I gave him the final product. Even though I mark up pages with mundane scratches and edits, it is an intimate experience.
I’ve had this experience with every single client when we’ve read together. As Rob Gentile and I read his book together, tears streamed down my face, especially during the parts about his beautiful special-needs daughter, and also the sections when he learned who his donor heart came from.
Note: scroll below for the entire transcript of the conversation with Rob A. Gentile about the read-aloud session for his book.
Do you read your drafts out loud? If not, try it!
Do you read words out loud as part of your own writing process? If not, I encourage you to try it and predict that you will do it forevermore.
Rhonda Lauritzen is the founder and an author at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. Rhonda lives to hear and write about people’s lives. She believes that when you tell your story, it changes the ending., She and her husband Milan restored an 1890 Victorian in Ogden. She especially enjoys unplugging in nature. Check out her books: How to Storyboard, and Every Essential Element. Most recently she was the writing coach of bestselling author, Rob A. Gentile, who wrote Quarks of Light, A Near-Death Experience: What I Saw That Opened My Heart
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Transcript of conversation with Rob Gentile about the read-aloud session for his book, and other topics
It has a as a note, this is being recorded, so but when I when I do the replay, I always make sure that it’s my face on the screen. But welcome, everyone, for joining. I expect Rob to be along here momentarily just for replay purposes. I got my wires crossed this morning and sent him the wrong link. So we’re getting that squared away.
But I want to introduce a topic that I’m passionate about because it will make you such a better writer. And that topic is a read aloud session. This is something I wish I knew who told me this gave me this tip. But basically years ago, someone said, you should always read your stories aloud with someone because it just points out a myriad of issues.
And what I didn’t necessarily expect early on was that it would be absolute magic as well. But when I wrote my mother’s book for the first time, so my first big project, we scheduled to read aloud session. It was my mom, my best friend and I. We scheduled a weekend away. We went to Park City, rented a condo and read. Oh, Rob has joined us. Yay! Thank you, Rob. And my apologies for for the snafu there.
So I’ve got you on. Hello.
Oh, and you’re not on me. So I was just explaining what a read aloud is and how on my very first book we went away, my mom, my best friend and I, and we read her book, the manuscript together over a couple of days. And it was a great girls weekend.
And it pointed out just a myriad of issues, like when you’re reading aloud, you notice, oh, that drags you see typos you didn’t see before their notice. I oh my gosh, I’m falling asleep.
This is my own story and I’m really bored right now. Then it points out those things.
It points out areas. I have a tendency to sometimes sound really pretentious in my writing. Don’t use dollar words when dime words will do well.
I like lots and lots of dollar words and sometimes it just sounds ridiculous when it comes out of your mouth, you realize, oh, you sound so overblown right here.
So anyway, I’ve been doing that now with every client and I invited Rob.
So without further ado, let me introduce our special guest this morning. Rob is the the author of a number one bestseller in no fewer than 13 categories. His book, Quarks of Light, His Near-death Experience.
What I saw that opened my heart has been resonating with people.
The reviews just keep coming in. I don’t know if there’s a single review now that’s less than five stars. I don’t know. Last I checked, it was something like forty reviews.
It’s really resonating with people.
It’s an important book.
We put our hearts into it. You worked your heart out for years on it just did an incredible job.
And without further ado, I want to introduce you and then talk about the read aloud session, because when Rob finished his his manuscript, I invited him out to Utah. He’s in North Carolina. I’m in Utah. We worked together for a couple of years. And finally, you have this manuscript in hand. And he booked a flight and we spent several days here together. And so I want to turn the floor over to you, Rob, and let you talk about what that was like for you.
And then we’ll have a little dialog about it. Sure.
First of all, thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here. Talk about this, Rhonda, because it’s been such a great experience and, you know, sitting down every morning and and writing. And it was such a beautiful part of my own self discovery and working through these things, particularly a near-death experience, because there’s no language for it. And you helped me so much with that. And it was just an amazing journey that we had.
But I have to tell you that the read aloud what it did for me personally and I’m so glad to hear you’re doing that for your clients, because honestly, I don’t know too many coaches that actually do this take the time to do this. But the importance of that read aloud was that for the first time, I actually was able to hear my own words because you’re you’re buried in the manuscript and you’re buried in writing the state chapter after chapter and editing as you go along.
But but to hear it and you and I took turns and there were moments when we said, you know, this really isn’t working here. Maybe it’s a little too syrupy or schmaltzy or maybe we should use different language here. But you can’t figure that out in your own head hearing. It just brings a whole nother dimension to the project. You it brings it to life. And that was the turning point in. Project for me personally, because when we met through that process and we cried together and laughed together and said, wow, this is really powerful, this works really great here or take this out, it’s a little too much.
You know, as you know, I had a tendency to use a little too much research. Sometimes it got too sciencey or I gave accolades to someone that was a little bit overblown and went on and on and on about that person. And when I did research things like that. So to to carve all that out and edit that down and focus on the story was was so incredibly helpful. Plus, it was a magical experience, you know, particularly working long distance, as you mentioned, work long distance for a couple of years on the project.
Never got to see each other face to face, never did a zoo meeting. They were all just calls every other Sunday and working through edits together. So to be able to sit down face to face in the same room and hear each other’s voice and bring the project to life was incredible.
It was it was for me to rob and. I want to point out one moment, at least one, do you remember while you were reading, looking over at me a couple of times and there are tears streaming down my face while you’re reading?
Yeah. Yeah, and same for me, and those were moments where, you know, the magic and the music and spirit showed up and we knew, wow, this is really powerful. We have to keep this. And there were times when I took it to to the publishing stage. And and again, it went through a series of edits by someone that I don’t know. You give it it, you give it to someone else, put it in their hands.
And they sometimes they have their own ideas of why this does or doesn’t work. And, you know, you have to fight for that because you and that helped me fight for those moments that we both knew were right. We both knew those moments had to stay. And that’s really important for four authors to understand, because everybody goes through that process and you’re just dealing with people and they have their own perspective and own take on the work and on the project.
And it’s so important to know when to stick to your guns and when to relent and say, well, this person is experienced, know they know a little bit more than me in this area and when to just to to to give a little. But without that read out and knowing what those moments were, I don’t know, I probably would have relented a little more easily and probably would have taken the risk of cutting out some very powerful things that needed to stay in the book.
So, yeah, I’m so glad to hear you say that.
Also for me, it was a little gas in the tank for the next process that was to come because it was a year over a year ago that we did that session.
That was February, right before the pandemic and right before all flights got canceled.
And but it was a publishing process that came next. And that’s not the most fun part of the process, is it?
No, that’s a that’s a painful it’s a painful process because, again, what I had to learn the hard way is you can imagine is that most of these publishers, I mean, they’re presented with hundreds of projects. And I was kind of taken aback when the publisher said up front was one of those soul crushing conversations that you had prepared before along the way that guess what? I don’t have the time to read your whole book. It’s like what you you don’t have the time to read my work.
Well, why would you ever take on my project and think that you’re going to edit it? Right. But the reality is that that’s the business. And, you know, they don’t read the whole book. We’re going to skim through it and to understand that up front. Maybe then go back and say, wow, am I glad that we had this read aloud exercise so we can again know which which chapters, in which things to stick with and in which we’re OK to cut out.
But to think about someone not reading your work and just going through this process mechanically of editing was was it was painful. It was difficult. And it was kind of like, OK, now it’s time to grow up and understand that, you know, this is how the process works.
And so there was a lot of there was a lot of push and pull with with this editor, my publisher’s editor. And in the end, we became to we came to an amicable agreement. But I would caution anyone that they have to know where to pick their battles and what to fight for and and when to listen to so-called experts when it comes to editing.
Yeah, it’s it’s great advice. And also, I think it’s OK to recognize when you know that it’s good. There’s this like wanting to detach from the ego and not being like, oh, I’m the most amazing writer and we had many moments of self-doubt and wrangling and just worrying about it. But there’s a there was a quiet feeling in that room while you were reading. That it was good and that it was worthy and that it was important and I feel like that that understanding, that quiet recognition of I’ll call it the spirit whispering this is important.
Prepared for the long year ahead. Well, I think that for me personally, spirit is a big part of it, you know, because that’s where for me that was my my little prayer every morning before I sat down to write it for 30 a.m. because I only have three hours before I went to work to let those words come through me, not from me, which was very important. And I think that as when I was done, because this was my first book, but when I was done with that process and I have friends and matter of fact, a relative that’s quite a famous musician and I have other friends that are in entertainment and things like that.
And they all say the same thing that, like Paul Simon said, when he sits down to write, he sits down at the same time every day and he waits for the show to start so that these these words come through you. And some can call it news or some can call it spirit. And really, when those words come through you and not from you, those are the ones that, you know, have to stay. Yeah, well, I have learned a lot from you.
And how about that process about humility and dedication and just I’m so proud of you first time author, you did it and you’re you’re making a difference. Thank you. So let’s shift for a few minutes and talk about something else that’s really important, because now that your book is out, it is resonating with people. And there’s a thread in your book related to suicide and it touched you in two different ways to important moments. Let’s start by talking maybe about about Frosty, the first experience with with suicide in your book.
Sure. Sure. And this is you know, this is a tough it’s a tough one to talk about because Frosty, not to give away a whole lot, because we certainly want the reader to enjoy the book and not be a spoiler. But Frosty was my brother-in-law who had taken his own life, unfortunately, seven weeks before I died that night. And it was it’s a sad tale, but a tale that we see so much now in society today, because Frosti had an anxiety problem and he was going through a divorce and he had his own business.
He was on the cusp of losing his business. It was around Christmas time, you know, trying to figure out how to pay for his daughter’s college education, all of these things bearing down on him. And he had he had a bit of a history with with drug abuse, but he was clean for five years, which is the travesty of the whole story. But as that pressure built and built and built that time of year, he decided to go out and blow off some steam.
And unfortunately, he got a hold of a very nasty street drug that drove him mad for like 40 minutes and came home and took his own life. So that was the first luminous soul to in my story, to to lose their own life. And then after I got transplanted, I came to realize you have to wait a year actually after your transplant to try to approach the donor family through through the organ transplant organization. And and I did that.
And it took over a year and a half for them to respond. And finally, when they did, the long and short of it is I did end up meeting the family. But this person who I have living inside of me, I learned tragically had committed suicide as well. And that person took a different, different route. That person was young and that person was bullied a lot online and got into this whole social media deception of perfection and having to be perfect.
And she was a little bit different in terms of clothing she wore and things like that. But a beautiful, beautiful soul, love, special needs children was an artist, a natural born artist. I mean, just just beautiful person. And she got she got all wrapped up in this, you know, this social media deception because she felt unworthy. She came from a broken home and one thing led to another. I’m not good enough. I’m not perfect enough.
Started getting bullied and then she started comparing herself to others online, trying to fit in and went down this path that eventually drove her to taking her own life. And you know, Rhonda, I have to share a quick story on this, because recently it actually happened this weekend, which was so gratifying. One of my wife’s a pharmacist and she belongs to a network of doctors, integrative medicine, doctors and things like this. And one of the doctors had purchased the book and she’s going through her and her husband are going through a divorce.
But they have three beautiful children that are right in that very malleable, vulnerable stage, junior high and high school. And of course, they’re angry about the divorce, but they’re turning to social media to try to escape some of this anger. And now they’re becoming very robotic and the losing kind of like their emotional intelligence and getting wrapped up in this in this whole world. And curiously, the mother read the book and she was so moved by it that she bought a copy for each one of her children.
And she said, I want each one of you to read this book and you’re not going to get your phones back until you do, because I want you we’re going to talk about this book and how it affected you and kind of like a warning of, hey, this can happen to you to. So that was incredibly, incredibly gratifying for me to hear, and I’m hoping that, you know, that that message continues to get out there because interestingly enough, because of these these two beautiful people in the book taking their own lives, the book became a number one bestseller in the category of the psychology of Suicide, which was one of these unexpected gifts and something like that.
When something like that happens, it made the three years of writing the book all worthwhile.
You know. So your book is both there’s a message of hope for families who have been affected by suicide. Yes. And there’s a warning for all of us. Talk about the hope side for a moment when you met Frosty on the other side and just what you want to say about that. Sure.
And that’s a great always love to end on hope and talk about hope, because, you know, I had a before before I died, I well, I was raised Catholic and I had a very well I had I had a typical Catholic view of of Jesus and and religion and God and things like that. But what but what happened was, is that when I died that night in Frosty came to me, he said to me, I’ve made a big mess of things.
I need you to go back and help clean things up. But tell my family I’m in a good place. And when he said, tell my family I’m in a good place, it really when I came out of coma and I realized what happened, it was verified that I had come off the gurney like a scene out of The Exorcist. I sprung forward on the gurney. And I I believe to this day that it was Frosty grabbing me by my lapels to get my attention.
And he pulled me up off the gurney because I was unconscious and I my eyes popped open and I shouted out his name, Frosty and I collapsed backward onto the gurney. And that’s when Code Blue rang out and I flatlined for 20 minutes. But it was when I came out of my coma, when my wife came to the bed and and I was talking to her like a child. And I said, you have to believe me. You have to believe me.
Your brother came to me. He talked to me. He’s OK. He told me he’s in a good place. And she said, it makes sense now. And I said, why? And she told me what had happened right before I flatlined. And I was like, oh, my. Oh, my goodness. So I actually was curious that Frosti helped prepare the way for my second near-death experience when my body gave out again in Chicago before my donor heart arrived.
And I believe now that that was part of him coming to me as well to kind of open my mind. But the story of hope there is it’s pretty obvious. I mean, being raised Catholic, I was told that if you took your own life, regardless of the circumstances, it was no pass go, you’re going directly to hell. And that was it. Your soul was finished. But Frosty, having said I’m in a good place, really change that whole paradigm for me.
And I began to wonder what other assumptions I had made about a loving God and our creator, particularly when Frosti was not in his right mind, had taken drugs. And I came to understand that, you know, those things are manmade assumptions and that, again, open the door for me to understand as I move along through my journey and all the other beautiful people from all different religious belief systems all over the world, everything from Sikhs to Muslims to Jews.
The Christians were in my story and help save my life and and all of the common threads that have woven through all of our belief systems, which is love. So that that’s the story of hope, that we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. And who are we to know God’s thoughts and to judge what God would consider to be or determine whether our soul ends up in heaven or hell. No. Oh, thank you for for sharing today with with my with our great readers and students here at Evalogue.Life and for sharing you, I feel like thanking you every single time we talk because I learned from you and it gives me perspective.
I feel more grounded every time I talk to you. And I hope. I just hope your book continues to reach the people who need this message of both hope and concern for for what we’re experiencing in society today with anxiety in social media and and drugs, these things that can very much affect our families and our children and grandchildren. A lot of darkness out there.
But, you know, it doesn’t have to be. We’re all made of light. We all come from our identity comes from God. And when we realize that there’s really nothing to be afraid of. So if we can if we can keep ourselves connected to God’s love and light and think about that, me, myself, I start my day with meditation and prayer routine and that’s my foundation. And that’s how I start my day. And I would encourage everyone to find their own way to connect to to God’s peace and love every morning before they get out in the world.
Because, as you say, we need it right now more than ever.
Yeah. Well, thank you so much. Oh, someone just posted the name of the book, please, and the author’s last name. Let’s end on that Quarks of Light, .Q-U-A-R-K-Sof Light. My guest today is Rob Gentile, G-E-N-T-I-L-E. Please get his book. You won’t be sorry. It’s it’s a bestseller for a reason. And oh, another comment. Your book is so gripping and inspiring. I can’t put it down.
Thank you. Thank you so much. You can also go to my website because I have. I tried to, I tried to get out there now regularly and, and post blogs and lots of other things that are going on podcasts. So it’s https://robagentile.com. And I’m so delighted to hear that you’re enjoying the book and you know, it can bring you some peace. Thank you so much.
So Quarks of Light by Rob A. Gentile. Go to his website. [23:16] https://robagentile.com. And I think we are we’re at 27 minutes so we’re not, we’re good. But your time was we’re good on the time so.
OK, thank you. I appreciate you. It’s an Honor for having me. Good luck, everyone. Bye bye, everybody. Bye bye.