One Writer’s Beginnings: Listening

A month ago I read a post on Brad’s blog, Turning Pages, that has stuck with me. It was a post called “Reading Technique,” in which he expressed his curiosity about how others read. He said that when he reads, he can “hear” each word mentally, and he wondered whether this is a good thing or not, remembering that some speed reading information implies that it is not.

This afternoon, as I was reading the first section of Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, savoring the beauty of her writing, I ran across a wonderful response to Brad’s question. This book is a little treasure! It is divided into 3 parts, which originally were separate lectures at Harvard University as part of the History of American Civilization graduate program. The first lecture was entitled “Listening.” Here is what she said about reading, writing, and listening:

Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn’t hear. As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn’t my mother’s voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself. The cadence, whatever it is that asks you to believe, the feeling that resides in the printed word, reaches me through the reader-voice. I have supposed, but never found out, that this is the case with all readers–to read as listeners. It may be part of the desire to write. The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth, for me. Whether I am right to trust so far I don’t know. By now I don’t know whether I could do either one, reading or writing, without the other.

My own words, when I am at work on a story, I hear too as they go, in the same voice that I hear when I read in books. When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make changes. I have always trusted this voice.

This beautifully describes what happens to me when I read. And if I find myself reading too fast, because I have had some of that speed reading training, I have to slow myself down so I can hear the words, the reader-voice, so I don’t miss so much of the story.

I am loving this little book (104 pages) and am reading so I can hear that voice–and thinking of how lovely it would have been to see and hear Eudora Welty read it herself in those three lectures at Harvard.

7 thoughts on “One Writer’s Beginnings: Listening

  1. Kay

    That is the most interesting thing. I too hear that voice and I too have wondered if it slows me down. Why is it that we feel we must rush through our reading? I know that some online book groups I have participated in have had people list how many books they read in a week or month or year and I was amazed at the speed that some read. Perhaps they miss out on something in their rush. Thanks for the info about this book. I will look it up. It sounds lovely!

    Love your blog. I came by way of Nan’s “Letters from a Hill Farm”.


  2. Robin

    Kay, you pose an interesting question…why DO we feel we must rush through our reading? I know that having “so many books and so little time” makes me want to hurry, but I am so much happier when I take my time and listen to the reader-voice, and allow myself to be fully immersed in the experience.
    Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Gentle Reader

    I love the passage, too. I don’t know why I sometimes rush when I’m reading, except that I get so involved in the story that I am impelled forward, faster and faster–I need to know what is next. But I am also always trying to slow myself down, so that I don’t miss anything wonderful. It’s the constant push and pull that I feel when I read…


  4. Robin

    Brad and G.R., there’s so much I want to read, it’s tempting to zoom through the books I choose. But when I find a real treasure like this little book, I slow down and really listen to what the writer is saying. It’s such pleasure.


  5. danielle

    I think I am a pretty slow reader. I like to hear that voice telling me the story. I can’t skip words or skim–I have to read each and every word! There are some books, though, I feel like I am gulping down–but that is usually as the action is calling for it, or I just have to find out how it ends!


  6. Robin

    Danielle, I do the same thing–gulp down certain books, completely carried away. But when I find I’m reading a real treasure, I slow down and really listen to the reader-voice. And I’m always on the search for those treasures!



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