Why reading your writing out loud matters so much
Being a copywriter, I work in the world of words. I often get a breakdown of what needs to be communicated, and it is my job to turn the breakdown into a digestible and effective piece of writing, whether it's for a webpage, a social media post, a brochure, or even devising a brand tagline.
Sometimes, it is easy to just settle for well-thought out copy. Does it logically follow the brief? Yes. Is it grammatically correct? Yes. Done.
But good copy takes a little more.
I was working recently via video chat with a couple colleagues on a webpage. As they designed the layout and plugged it in, I crafted copy that matched the tone of the page and followed the brand guidelines and briefing.
I muted myself so that I could play with the words verbally, investigating similar words until the correct one fell in my lap. As the text came to me, I jotted it down on the webpage, going back and replacing words as new metaphors and calls-to-action came to me.
In mid flow, my thoughts were interrupted by a colleague saying, “Wow, it’s like watching a poet at work.” Taken aback and a wee bit flattered, I unmuted, laughed, and then made some joke about how Shakespeare probably would have been terrible at internet copy (far too many words).
But his comment made an imprint in my mind, because watching a good copywriter work isn’t like watching a poet work - it is watching at poet work.
This post is by no means a slam on my colleague, as I know his comment was a compliment and that despite our teasing back-and-forths, he values my textual artistry in the same way I deeply appreciate his graphic designs.
Still, his comment made me think about the world of words I am immersed in, and made me recognize that my approach to language is heavily based in rhythm and consonant-vowel pairings. It often feels more artistry than logic.
It’s a wordy world. The first written communication we have dates around 3500 B.C, but language itself dates far before that.
In her 2001 book, Text in Action, renowned British theatre director and vocal coach Cicely Berry discussed that verbal communication was not birthed by language, but rather the other around.
All the rhythms and forms of speech evolved naturally as humans became increasingly articulate and started to make speech sounds. And as time went on there was as natural progression into forms of ritualistic language, and certain rhythms and combinations of sounds took on a significance of their own…these sounds, these rhythms, were part of our evolution and existed before they were analysed by the mind, before they were given a name and quantified. They were part of a verbal society. - Cicely Berry (Text in Action)
In our wordy world, it is easy to forget – and indeed neglect – the value of how words sound.
Language was birthed in sound, not in intellect and logic. Certainly, we have logic in our language now, and there are assigned definitions and understandings associated with words that allow us to communicate on a cerebral level, so we can’t throw out ritualistic language entirely.
With this being said, language evolves; words take on new meanings, phrases are combined to create entirely new words, and pronunciations shift region to region and time to time.
Language is not just logical – it is flexible, malleable, and visceral. This means that we as copywriters need to give ourselves freedom to play with words. Just being able logically explain an idea isn’t enough.
The visceral connection to sound that traces back to our early ancestors cannot be forgotten. Let yourself connect emotionally with your words and rhythms. Allow the phrasings to seep into your heartbeat, and see how the copy is changing you.
The information that you get back from empathizing with your copy will allow you write more viscerally-connective, and, therefore, subconsciously effective, copy.
In the corporate grind, artistry is often neglected. When the clock is ticking and deadlines are rapidly approaching, allowing your creative juices to flow is overstepped and generally overruled by higher ups.
A quick way to emotionally connect with your copy is by reading it aloud. By giving the words to your body through your voice, your breath and your mouth, you are connecting the intellectual, logical portion of language with the visceral, empathetic nervous system.
We are unaccountably moved by words spoken in a particular pattern, by how the sound of a voice can lift and inspire beyond meaning, and how we can be manipulated by words well spoken. - Cicely Berry (Text in Action)