Listening to My Writing

Audio Renaissance sent me a CD copy of the audiobook of Old Man’s War, and I experienced a moment that made me realize how much of a citizen of the digital age I am: I thought, eight discs? I’ve gonna have to rip all of these? What a hassle! Don’t worry, I smacked myself in the head right after.

I’ve been listening to the book a bit today, and I have to say the experience is, well… weird. To be clear, it’s very well done; I think William Dufris, who is reading it, is great at it. The thing is that he reads it differently than I read it, in my head, and, inasmuch as I’m the guy who wrote the thing, the differences in our respective execution make for a bit of cognitive dissonance. After hearing it in my head a particular way for the last six years, it takes a little getting used to.

(I didn’t have this happen with the audio version The Sagan Diary, partly because it was told from a woman’s point of view, and partly because I shipped it off to the various readers right after I finished it. That was a different experience entirely.)

It’s weird to say but I kind of like the cognitive dissonance I’m getting; without getting too hippy-trippy about it, it’s a reminder that there are other ways of approaching the book than the way I do in my own head, and these different approaches can put the book in a different light. It’s interesting to approach your own work a little like a stranger, basically.

14 Comments on “Listening to My Writing”

  1. I’m actually listening to Dufris reading Asimov’s ‘Caves of Steel’ today. I don’t like his female voices so much, but when they’re predominantly male he does a good job. This is probably the fifth or sixth audiobook he’s been the reader for that I’ve listened to from (which rocks).

  2. Oh, hey, i found your keys: they were right next to the Old Man’s War audiobook. That’s why you couldn’t find them. They were in the future.

  3. I suspect it’s similar to watching a play you’ve written being produced. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a play I published done several times. While watching the performance, I certainly recognized the characters; however, each production allowed me to see aspects of them I hadn’t necessarily thought of when I wrote it. In one case, where I was there for the entire rehersal and run, I was approached about making a slight change to the script because of how two of the actors saw their characters, and after some thought, I rewrote the lines because I agreed with them (no writing is ever truly finished, you just run out of money, time, or smack into a deadline).

    Orson Scott Card wrote about getting letters from readers of Ender’s Game, and noted that the readers placed themselves inside the story as participants, thus looking at the world through their eyes as well as his. Thus William Dufris brings his eyes to Old Man’s War when he reads it, as do I and all the readers of the book. As Card noted, if the story means anything to us, the reader, then the story is something that he and reader have made together.

  4. You will go blind if you keep doing that, you know.

    I always heard you go blind if you “pat the mutton” a bit too much…

  5. Isn’t that so interesting? I don’t have an audiobook, but my husband reads sections of my story to me when he is referring me to it sometimes. I want to jump whenever he puts and inflection somewhere else or stumbles at a word.

    And I also find it fascinating in critique groups when someone sees something in my story that is honestly there, but that I didn’t see. Like a surreal tale that readers have told me is a ghost story. i never saw it as a ghost story before then, but now I see why they said so.

    Part of writing I guess is sharing your ideas, and part is inspiring people to their own ideas.

  6. Try writing a play sometime, John! If you want to see something completely change from your head to what’s presented, see what a group of people do with what you think is an extremely clear set of instructions on how to present things. The dissonance is almost scary.

    Of course, you’ll probably have a major motion picture deal sometime, which is probably very close. Only much, much cooler. Damn you.

  7. I had the same cognitive dissonance when Jack Mangan read my story “Transcendence Express” on Escape Pod. Of course, nothing against Jack’s reading: he did a nice job. But indeed I would have put emphasis and inflection different in places.

    I do agree this weird kind of distancing from your own work is a good thing: it forces you to re-appraise your work, and hopefully do better with the next one.

    BTW, the reading I most enjoyed was by Mary Robinette Kowal, who read Elizabeth Bear’s “Wax” (originally published in Interzone #201) in the Spring 2007 issue of Subterranean Press. I thought that was fabulous.

  8. It’s so cool that you’re enjoying the experience. One of the most interesting comments I’ve heard was from David Gilmour saying that one experience he can’t have that he would love to (I’m paraphrasing, or is it interpreting…) is that he can never hear “Dark Side of the Moon” for the first time.

  9. I feel you and your cognitive dissonance. Whenever I hear somebody reading my stuff, it’s like hitting speed bumps.

    Not like we can do anything about it though, unless we want to go around constantly dispensing beat-downs. Or maybe that is what you want, who knows.

  10. Thanks for linking back to the Sagan Diaries MP3’s – I had a train ride yesterday and had burned through all the books (one of which was “The Ghost Brigades”) that I had brought and was staring 12 hours in a tin can without any brain stimulation in the face.

    Once again Scalzi saves the day.

  11. There really is no good reason I can think of to put audio books on CD instead of data DVD. Sure, uncompressed files are nice for detailed recordings of things like symphony, but the quality loss in the human voice speaking is not noticeable in high bit rate MP3s.

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