Literati Event with Robin Queen

I must say, I was incredibly surprised by Robin’s interview at Literati. When I think of a linguist, I generally think of someone who is interested in how language works and how it has evolved; however, this wasn’t an exclusive interest of Robin’s – in fact, she seemed to almost favor creative works in writing her books. Admittedly, I have long held the view that academic work (such as linguistics in this case) are quite different than anything made for mainstream consumption. Somehow Robin has struck a balance between the two and I found this to be really interesting.

Robin also mentioned that in her writing, she often views it as an interaction with others. I have often heard that writing should be viewed as a conversation between the author and the reader, and this sentiment was echoed in the interview. But Robin put a spin on this that I had never really heard before: while writing is obviously meant to be read, Robin stated that she writes with the intention of having it be read aloud. This means that the way words sound, the way they interact, and the flow between words are all taken into account in her writing (I guess a lot of this makes sense, given her linguistic background). I think that all writers do this to some extent, in that words and flow are important – but never have I sat down and thought, “What would this sound like if I wanted it to be read aloud? And how would that change my writing process leading up to a finished product?”

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure how I would go about writing something that was strictly meant to be read aloud. Nor am I sure of how my message or argument would sound. Would I have to write the piece more like a speech? Or perhaps maybe a transcription? Or would I just have to write it like a normal paper and hope that it sounded the same read out loud? This would certainly yield some interesting literary conventions, as you would also have to juggle the sound structure of words in addition to the other rhetorical techniques that accompany writing.

Additionally, Robin mentioned that she will sometimes handwrite a lot of her work. This got me thinking: when’s the last time I handwrote a paper? And similarly to writing with the intention of having it read out loud, how would this change my argument and prose? While it may seem like a relatively insignificant change of pace, I think there are some interesting consequences that could arise from writing with pen and paper. Perhaps this would manifest in more “stream of consciousness” writing, or perhaps maybe in more deliberate works (who wants to drag out pages and pages worth of handwriting when you can more efficiently type the same thing?), but at any rate, these all might be fun conventions to try in future writing.

One thought to “Literati Event with Robin Queen”

  1. Hi Jeffrey,

    Thanks for posting about this Literati event; I wasn’t able to make it so I had been hoping to hear about it on the blog. I’ve read up a little on Vox Popular to get an idea of Robin’s work, but it’s also really helpful to hear from you about her perspective on her work. How fitting that she applies her topic of research to her own writing—now that I’m thinking about it, wouldn’t it be a little awkward if she didn’t write with the intention of having her work read aloud? It’d be wonderfully ironic if her writing sounded absolutely awful out loud, even if it looked just fine on the page.

    I wonder whether or not this idea is instinctual for Robin at this point. Is reading her work out loud a part of her re-writing process, or does she think about what it will look like and sound like as she’s writing? I can sometimes think about both of these things at the same time, but for the most part, if I’m writing something that’s meant to be read aloud, I’ll first have to write it and then read it out loud, making edits once I’ve heard it in the air. I’m also curious as to whether or not this lends a poetic slant to her work; does she make nods to common poetic techniques like alliteration or rhyme? Or does this cause her writing to appear more like a speech would, like you mentioned earlier?

    This is a really interesting idea to ruminate on, thanks for posting about it!


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