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We have all heard the advice about reading material aloud. When you have finished a writing session, the advice goes, you should read it aloud, looking for anything that you stumble over. The idea is that anything you find difficult to read will also be difficult for your readers and therefore needs editing.

This idea demonstrates a relationship between the spoken and the written word, but that relationship goes much deeper and is explored in depth by Peter Elbow.

He argues that we have two mental ‘gears’: a mental speaking gear and a mental writing gear. When using our speaking gear, the words roll out unplanned and spontaneously. But in our writing gear we are more careful and our words are planned with greater care. Whilst we cannot achieve sustained good writing without conscious care, our mental speaking gear can impact on our writing to improve its creativity.

It is a fascinating theory, and put into practice it can make us better writers.


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