I grew up with a slight stutter. Teachers pulled me out of my classes in elementary school. I felt like a special kid. I was a special kid in many ways. Doctors diagnosed me with this and that, but one of my main challenges was the fact I stuttered. I disliked reading aloud. Scratch that sentence. I hated it.
My paternal grandmother tried to help. She bought me Hooked on Phonics. When the package came in the mail, my parents and I opened to see the big box of cassette tapes and flash cards with all kinds of words and sounds. I popped the tapes into the player and tried to make the right sounds. I felt like a cow on display for children at a fair, and the children said, “Come on, moo, cow, moo.”
Mom would come up to my room to ensure I did my homework. No parent wanted his or her child to fall behind in school, but the fact was my elementary school advised my parents to hold me back for one year after first grade. I did not have the speech, vocabulary, or even coloring skills I needed. I did not know this fact about myself until high school.
Confidence for any achievement in life did not come until college. High school was a difficult and hard time in my life on many levels. Aside from having little knowledge about sex or drugs, or the understanding of how easily teenagers could take advantage of each other, I hated reading out loud in class. I never expressed this sentiment to my parents or anyone else. I tried to stick my nose in the book, and read to myself. I hoped the teacher would not call my name to read.
Snickers of classmates infuriated me. I stayed on the st– sound too long. The big joke of it all was the fact I dreamed of becoming an author. It did not matter to me how much of a loser others believed I was, I adored the written word more than any popular pair of shoes or the perfect mascara.
Other girls at school stored blush, foundation, mascara, and all the make-up necessities in a bag kept inside their book bags. I had ink on my hands from poems I doodled in class. When words were on the page, I felt free to move them around. They spoke to me in a secret language. I heard them in my head, and characters came to life. My imagination spun out of control like a kid in skates going down a hill in San Francisco.
I joined my first writing group when I went to study abroad in 2007. Call it a support group. Anything you want, but it had been a long time since I’d read any of my work out loud. At each meeting, we sat in a circle on a couch that showed its age, in a wooden chair, or on the floor. Words and characters stood up off the pages when each writer read his or her work. They came to greet each of us as we listened with a writer’s anticipation and an editor’s ear.
The Creative Writing Society 2006-2007 at Kent scheduled an open mic night for writers. Nerves ran up and down my spine. I knew for certain I would slip on my words. I would not sit in a room with a few other writers. This time I was on a stage.
A rush fills me when I go down a ski slope. Waves of snow sail off to the side of my skis. When my ski hits a frozen spot, I know I’m going to lose my balance and fall.
But, when I stood on the stage I did not fall. For the first time in my life, I had a support group of people who were like me. They wanted to improve their work. They sought their voice. Characters lived in the ears and minds of other writers.
Why Read Out Loud
Words cannot sit on a couch and eat chips all day like a lazy person. Well, they could, but where would the story go? Stories are not formed by typing fingers or jotting pens alone. A story comes with a voice.
Editor M. Scott Douglass of Main Street Rag spoke to a small group in April 2011 near my home. He talked about a poet who was too shy to read at one of his scheduled readings. Douglass told the group how important it was for any writer or author to read their own work.
A writer’s voice has a power which resonates with readers. It transforms from a shy voice or one with a stutter to one of power and authority. It is your work. You have the right to own it.
*I had to repost this blog, but thank you to those who commented on my previous version.