Audiobook Narrator with a Stuttering Voice? – Training My Voice

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This is the third article in a series of posts chronicling my journey through audiobook production, from conception to publication on Amazon Audible. In this article, I write about the rest of my training prior to beginning to record. It describes a walk-in-my-shoes through my daily morning reading sessions, progress and setbacks, and personal feedback on how I thought I was doing. Note that I’m writing this article after I’ve already finished recording due to the focus and energy it took to record. 

Training Continues

Between July 5th and August 20th, I completed 38 training sessions, reading aloud alone at home. This amounted to over 40 hours and 200,000 words read—a thorough and rigorous test to prepare my entire being for what lay ahead. 

Since I did most of the training before I went to work, my drive to the office is how I describe the toll of each session. Imagine driving in rush hour traffic on a winding road while going in and out of consciousness lost in a haze of exhaustion and thought. I fought hard to come back down to earth and then try to do something productive in the immediate aftermath, such as driving and my job. 

Scary, right? Well, I felt that way through most of the first read of the book, and realized I should probably begin to document how each session went right when I finished in fear of forgetting it altogether. The following is an analysis of that effort, using my actual notes in the charts below with summaries and some highlights.

First Narration 

In the first full narration of the book, I read aloud for more than an hour in only five sessions, averaging around 5000 words. I stuck to my time constraints before work and chose to get the words in rather than push my limits too far. When I did push, though, I was ready—experiencing my breakthrough of nearly 8000 words in one hour and 29 minutes on a weekday morning. 

This first read was about finding my baseline. I used how efficient I was with my stuttering, meaning the amount and frequency of struggle, which usually showed up in my pattern as choppy brake stand blocks that disrupted the flow of forward-moving voicing. Remember that I was alone, without any distractions, and not recording, yet these practice sessions provided a glimpse of how I could perform. 

The 18 sessions were also a reminder that I’m an author who stutters reading aloud, not a narrator. This mindset helped because although I made an effort to improve some narration skills, like breathing, pacing, and inflection, I knew I was far from professional. I knew I could not judge my stuttering or performance, at any point, in these parts of the process.

Second Narration

In the second full narration of the book, every session but one was over an hour, topping out at an hour and 43 minutes and almost 9500 words. The jump to over an hour illuminated my limits, even if it was only a few more minutes than in a majority of the sessions in first narration phase. My limits are seen in my notes as “presence started to slip,” “lost my concentration,” and, most importantly, feeling the breakdown of my voicing and open stuttering onset.  I was crossing previously established communicative boundaries. 

After reviewing these notes, it was clear that I was, in fact, staying present and feeling what I was doing. The descriptions of each session show that I performed, recalled, and documented what actually happened, allowing myself to process how I was actually progressing. I wasn’t picking apart how I sounded. I told the truth, identified successes alongside things to improve, and constructively reinforced my performance. Of course, there were times when I struggled, but I kept my focus on what I was trying to do, build endurance to stutter longer and to not be easily deterred by what one might perceive as setbacks to producing an audiobook, such as choppy speech, verbal graffiti, or monotone voicing. 

As I wrote, I was “happy with and noticing my progress…”

Ready or Not, Panic Attack

I read the book through two times but I still felt as though I needed more practice. So, I took the sections that I thought needed extra work and I started again. The sections were part three, the analysis of my journey—chapters 11 through 20. However, there was a twinge inside that told me that I might be ready to start recording, but I wasn’t willing to let myself believe it. 

As life generally does, it showed me the impact that training was having in combination with everything else I was doing. I was experiencing a particularly busy time in my personal and professional lives right as I started this third phase of training. Between home and work life, the stress got the best of me. 

The night before the second to last training session, I had a panic attack, or at least that’s what I’m calling it. 

Struggling to breathe, I woke up not long after falling asleep. My whole body was numb, almost like when your arm or leg falls asleep and you try to bring it back to life. I had no control over what was happening. I thrashed, or tried, in bed to get feeling back but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t catch my breath either. Somehow, I managed to throw myself off the bed and on to floor, gasping for air as I lay on my side while forcing my pounding heart back into my chest. 

Yet, two sessions later, I deemed myself ready to start recording. The panic attack told me that I needed face what lay ahead. Like with each moment of stuttering, I headed into recording from a feeling of discomfort, unsure of how it would go. I just had to start and figure my way through it. 

Conclusion

I learned a lot about my stuttering while training my voice and finding my limits. Knowing how my limits felt, having an awareness of when they might onset, and finding new ones forced me to adapt and change my reactivity to them rather than succumb to their negative aspects. It cultivated an “I’ve been here before” familiarity that didn’t immediately crush my motivation to continue stuttering aloud. Instead, the awareness kept me present in the sessions to see how best to respond to the alarm that my limits set off inside. 

Hindsight allows me to know that this ability would serve me well in the studio. The familiarity let me focus on the bigger picture of what I was trying to do and control my natural desire to want to give in to the struggle and quit. 

I would need every ounce of resilience to make it through what I was about to do.

Read the first two posts in the series here:

Doubt & Fear

Finding a Studio & Endurance Training

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