Sunday, October 17, 2010

Listen to Yourself

Naturally, ghostwriters need to be good writers, but there is another skill that is equally important. We need to be good interviewers. Interviews are not only for gathering information; they also allow me to capture the unique voice of my client. I wrote an article titled “My 12 Interview Rules” sharing some things I’ve learned about this facet of my job. But it’s intended for ghostwriters, which most of the readers of The Blood Red Pencil are not. However, here’s a tip that I think all writers, ghostly or not, can use: interview yourself.

Talk your thoughts instead of writing them. Tell a story, or muse and ponder, out loud – and record yourself doing so. Then play it back.

What metaphors and idioms do you use? Do you have an accent, or use words and phrases that betray your origins? What are you not saying, and why aren’t you saying it? Pay attention to the cadence of your speech, the rhythm of your words. Do you write true to your own voice?

Transcribe the recording verbatim, and then edit the transcription, removing the ums and ers and sidetracks, but preserving the rhythm and your voice. Who knows, maybe you will learn something new about yourself.

By the way, this also works for building fictional characters. Talk aloud as if you are your character. What are they trying to tell you? Are you listening?
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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  1. "Talk aloud as if you are your character. What are they trying to tell you? Are you listening?"

    This fantastic advice from the last paragraph of this post should never be allowed to fall through the cracks. Why?

    We writers often "know" where our stories are going and how our characters will resolve their challenges (or how they will reap what they have sown). The mental pictures are strong and well- delineated. But are we listening?

    One of the biggest surprises I experienced about midway through my first book was that I—the author—was no longer authoring. The scenes I had so carefully laid out in my mind—complete with specific dialogue—were not coming together as I had envisioned. Why? My characters had grabbed the reins and taken over the ride. THEY were telling THEIR story. Rather than forcing them back into the neat little lives I'd created for each of them, I sat back (fingers dancing on the keyboard, of course) and let them show me what REALLY happened. What a difference that made in the story (and the feedback I received from my early readers)!

    This is very important information for fiction writers, Kim. Thanks for sharing, Dani!

  2. I've actually done this before, and it's extremely helpful, like a voice journal taken to the extremes. It's so fun for me to talk in the centuries old English accent that my protagonist has, because even though you can't hear it in the writing, it does have to come through somehow, and speaking out loud seems like the way to go.

    I'll have to try this again sometime. Brilliant.

  3. Sometimes just having a conversation with someone helps, too. You'll be answering a question or voicing your opinion and suddenly realize that the words you've spoken express how you feel about peaches or traffic or the future more eloquently than the words you've written about peaches or traffic or the future have ever managed to.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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