An Alternative to Reading Your Own Writing Out Loud When It’s Time to Revise (Plus, Some of My Favorite Audiobook Narrators)

Adequate Yearly Progress Cover Next to Headphones

One piece of common writing advice is to read your writing out loud to see how it sounds. For me, a more helpful way to get a sense of the “sound” of a piece of writing is to spend a few minutes listening to an audiobook that’s both well written AND has an amazing narrator. If you listen long enough, the narrator’s voice becomes the voice in your head when you sit down to reread your own writing. Suddenly, unnecessary words or unclear phrasing become obvious, and you hear the poetic potential in lines that felt straightforward when you wrote them. Plus, the well-honed style of a professional voice-actor offers a less jarring version of your work than your own voice in an empty room. While writing and revising Adequate Yearly Progress, this habit became so invaluable that I repeatedly listened to specific sections of certain books depending on which part of my own book I was working on – kind of an audio-chapter playlist.

If you’re looking to start an audio book playlist to help with your writing—or if you’re just looking for recommendations for a long car ride, here are four of my favorite audiobook-voice-actor combos

Roxana Ortega reading A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. This is a book with over 20 different fully-fleshed out characters. Ortega manages to capture all of them, including men and women of various ages and mental states, without actually acting out the voices.

Ari Fliakos reading The Nix, by Nathan Hill. This novel contains a lot of satirical observations and slow-burn humor, but also some understated emotional moments. Fliakos makes every line as memorable as it deserves to be.

Adjoa Andoh reading Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is a book with a wide range of characters from around the world. Andoh seems to be able to capture every accent, and her nuanced voice acting brings even the most minor characters to life.

Mohsin Hamid reading his own novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Being an author is a very different skill than narrating an audiobook, so it’s rare that the best voice for the book belongs to the person who wrote it. This book is definitely an exception. I could listen to Mohsin Hamid’s voice reading Mohsin Hamid’s writing all day.

These are four of my absolute favorites, but there’s also a longer list of books with good audio versions on my Goodreads page.

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

14 Years of Building a Writing Career in 14 Days of Emails

Two weeks of daily emails. Part creative writing crash course, part mobile-friendly memoir about building a career as an author.