Audiobooks. A double-edged blade for writers.
I can remember the first time I heard an audiobook. I was 12-14 years old and we were visiting my aunt in Virginia. She was driving her white minivan and over the speakers came Jim Dale’s voice narrating “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
I was transported.
Back then, I dreamed of going to Hogwarts even though I was long past the age of 11 and living in America. My sister and I loved reading the series and were one of the millions of children who waited anxiously for the next book to release. Hearing my favorite characters portrayed with different voices and inflections made the story alive for me in a special way. I was hooked on audiobooks from that moment forward.
There was something so easy about playing a book while painting in art school. Music was great, but I had multiple studio classes that were 3+ hours long, plus the extra time I spent outside of the classroom finishing projects. I quite literally ran out of music that I wanted to hear and turned to audiobooks for help. I listened to them constantly and loved absorbing new stories. Reading has always been important to me and this was satisfying two passions of mine in one.
The years rolled on and audiobooks became a part of my daily routine. Not until 2018, when I started pursuing my own writing more seriously, did I realize the flaw in audiobooks. There were some series that I listened to and fell in love with before I ever picked up the physical book. The first series that comes to mind is the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Mass, and The Poppy Wars by R.F. Kuang. These are BIG fantasy books, full of fictional names, places, and characters. I wanted more from them, so I decided to buy the actual book.
What a shock I received when I opened those pages.
Not only were the maps gorgeous but the writing was captivating.
Until that moment, it never dawned on me just how important it is to see words in print. I was missing out on one of the most beautiful aspects of these stories—the writing and spelling of the fictional names. This was and is huge for me as I mostly write fiction/fantasy. It was liberating to see the manipulation of letters through other authors' eyes. The characters were now different to me and the story took on a whole new dimension that I missed previously with the audiobooks.
The second revelation I had was seeing the actual sentence structure, grammar, and proper punctuation. I know, this is very obvious. It’s one thing to know you need quotations when someone is speaking, quite another to be writing it yourself and implementing the right grammar to adequately portray your meaning. I hadn’t studied English since my freshman year of college and although I knew the basics, I forgot a good portion of what I learned 10 years ago.
Reading a book, not just listening to the story, taught me how to see sentences, understand spacing on a page, and the amount of liberty I can take with my own writing style. Most of us are taught one way of doing something, which is needed for a good foundation. But as I learned with art, you got to make the basics your own and that's what makes a master.
Now, I still love audiobooks and think they are incredibly important. The value of verbal storytelling has kept many cultures and traditions alive when writing couldn’t or didn’t exist.
However, I find myself wanting to engage with the actual writing as I go further into the publishing world. I urge anyone who is writing to make sure you pick up a book and actually READ IT. Study the lines, see the structure of the page and paragraphs.
The improvement you will find in your own work will amaze you. If you are a serious writer, you should be reading a lot anyway, but reading and listening are vastly different. Too often my mind wonders with audiobooks and I don’t hear part of the story. I must rewind or ignore and continue with the story.
It’s a tricky thing, right?
As an author, I don’t want anyone skipping over what I wrote, it's there for a reason. As a listener, I can still grasp most of the story if I didn’t hear a sentence or two, but I still ultimately miss out because of it.
Hence, the dangers of audiobooks for a writer.