Eating (rather, reading) books this way could help your writing that way (or are you visual, auditory or kinesthetic?)

by Meredith Resnick

Being an auditory learner, listening to a book allows me to have stories delivered directly to the part of my brain that processes all the words and sentences, and mostly the author’s nuances, best. I love books, and I love reading, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to tackle books that would have otherwise daunted me. I have recorded books to thank. I was (still am) an avid reader. As a kid I had a tough time “nuancing” new material. I didn’t always “get” the voice.

Sometimes, that’s still true, especially with fiction.

In school the teacher told students to stop moving their lips when they read, as if it were a disgusting habit, like chewing with your mouth open. I didn’t progress quickly in color-coded SRAs, and in junior high when I begged my teacher to let me into an accelerated English class because I loved words and tried to love to read as much as I loved the words individually, heard that the “smart kids” actually talked about books, she told me, “It’s better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond.” Thanks. For the first time in my life, I was insulted – or knew I was insulted. “I don’t care if I get a C or a D or an F,” I said. (I’d already had experience failing Algebra in junior high [what they today call middle school], would soon have experience failing Geometry in high school [twice, I think], and would go on to college and fail Music Appreciation 101 [had I known music had mathematical qualities, I never would have enrolled] just as I was about to graduate.) “

That teacher relented, and I got a B. Minus. And it wasn’t easy for me.

In fact, it was hard, and mostly because of the reading required. The classics, the long thick books that were hard and the skinny, spare ones that were harder. I didn’t need to be a big fish, but I often wondered why I couldn’t absorb, as a reader, new material quicker. Teachers assumed it was because I wasn’t very smart and/or I didn’t try. Maybe I had a dumb look, who knows?

But I moved through college and grad school, plugging away. I found what came easiest to me were essay questions. My mind could wander, could braid digressive thoughts and make something greater than a whole. But, still, reading was never easy and, though I liked it, that much fun.

It wasn’t until I started listening to books in addition to reading them that I understood it had something to do with my brain wiring, or makeup, or both. Book clubs used to downright frown on taped material – like they are the authority on how books should be consumed! – but I don’t. And I think they are coming around, too. The more I listen to books the more I find it easier to read books that might have otherwise seemed too hard. And from that, despite what I learned in classes, from experts, I began to under how stories and essays were really structured, and that was – is – like life. In an erratic form that moves, sometimes forward, sometimes backwards. Linear at times, yet not at times.

I’m an auditory learner (and, perhaps, writer). I have friends who are visual. And I know there are many kinesthetic (via physical activity) learners as well. Which are you predominantly? When did you figure it out and how did it help your writing?

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Amy Wallen

All of this rings so true to me! Only in an opposite way. I am a visual learner. I tried and tried to listen to audio books for years because we live in such a car culture here in Southern California. But my mind would wander and I felt I was missing out on about ⅔ of the book. I would have to rewind and rewind until it was just useless. But I can devour a written book with no problem. I get lost in the words and while my mind still wanders, I have the pages right there to go back and wallow in the words. When did I discover that I was a visual learner? Probably when I learned I was not an auditory learner. That is, I couldn’t for the life of me remember or take in anything any of my professors lectured about. I signed up for a Hitler to Breshnev class my sophomore year and thought it would be the most interesting class, and I finally had to go beg the professor to let me drop it because I was failing so badly. He refused to let me out of it, told me to stick with it, but I still failed. He was nice and gave me a C in the end. But because the class was based mostly on his lectures, I couldn’t retain anything. If he’d shown us pictures or maps or had given us reading material, I think I may have done better. But in math, I excelled and yet I had no passion for it. It came easy to me because I visualized the problems in my head. The numbers moved about and added and substracted themselves or dangled overhead as remainders while the other numbers were calculated and until I finally could bring it all together for a total. All without even a pencil or paper. As I became a writer I started realizing that I saw the scenes I was describing and I wrote what I saw in my head.

I often wonder if the education system would better serve kids if they could be tested early for auditory or visual learning aptitude.

Great piece Mer. Lots to think about. Read on!

Susan Matthewson

Interesting essay, Meredith. Like Amy, I am a visual learner and have great difficulty concentrating on taped books. There’s a terrific company called The Great Courses that produce DVD and audio tapes for all sorts of subjects from world history to art to literature using tenured professors from various universities. Once, on a long driving trip to Oregon, I ordered a course on The Bible as Literature and tried to listen to it. The lecturer was very good and the topic was quite interesting, but, like Amy, I just found my mind wandering after about 10 or 12 minutes and I could not focus. I, too, kept rewinding and rewinding and finally in frustration I just quit listening. Later I ordered a DVD from the same company on the History of Art and that was an entirely different experience because while the professor was lecturing, he was on screen and the works of art were displayed on screen, so I could focus in visually and I got a lot out of it. When I was in college, in order to concentrate on the professors who lectured, I had to take copious detailed notes because I just could not learn by listening. My friends would make fun of me because I took so many notes, but reviewing and reading my notes was the only way I could learn the information. Excellent essay.

Meredith Resnick

Amy: There is a kind of widening, a freedom in really understanding who you are (I am) as a reader or a writer for that matter, or, for that matter, an artist. Not everyone is the same. I have to be reminded of that. Isn’t it interesting? In a time when we’re told to be individuals, the subtext is to fit in. It’s fine to fit, but I don’t see how it’s possible if you don’t know who you are – or the kind of reader or writer – you are first. The process helps explain, if we listen to ourselves. … Thanks for a great comment.

Meredith Resnick

Susan, So interesting, too.It sounds like you knew intuitively what you needed to do to absorb. That is so great. It took me so much longer. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that a roommate showed me how she processed info learned in class, her note-taking method. I found it worked for me, helped me. Made school and absorption so much easier. And I could be easier on myself. … Thanks so much for reading and your comment.


So interesting. It explains why I had such a tough time in school absorbing anything from lectures. I am very much a visual learner, and the way I learned best was by taking copious notes and both writing and reading them over and over.

Brette @ Putting It All on the Table

I’m a visual learner. I can’t stand auditory books because they don’t go fast enough for me and my mind wanders. I do ok with lectures because I write the information. I dislike conferences though I have to say – I could learn so much more in the same time span if I was just reading something. I’m happiest just sitting down with a book though!

Meredith Resnick

Sheryl – the copious notes part…this helped me, too, but it was more in the recopying of the notes after hearing the lecture. I’d have to go back and, almost immediately, rewrite down everything I had heard.

Meredith Resnick

Brette – interesting what you said. It’s exactly that, the part about not going fast enough…I am a slow visual reader. I actually read faster when I read aloud to myself (or with my lips moving but not speaking up that loud). Just the way it is for me.


Yep. I’m a visual learner, not auditory. I really have to concentrate when listening, and I’m easily overwhelmed by sound / noise. Though, I often have to “talk out” what I’ve read / heard to help solidify the info in my head.


Me, too. This was such an interesting read. I have a friend who swears by auditory books. She listens to them while driving long distances. I tried once a long, long time ago and rejected them. But I think these days the readers recruited do a much better job, often the authors, sometimes actors.


I love to ‘listen’ but I need to ‘do’ to assimilate new material. I also like to doodle while listening. When it comes to reading fiction I prefer to read to myself. I can savour the good bits, re-read the juicy prose, slow down or speed up depending on my mood and resonance with the story or poetry of the text.

If I’m reading factual or technical documents I really need models, diagrams and actual practice to get the meaning.

Most of us are a little bit of everything. A melting pot of learning styles. Delicious.

Great post thanks for the reminder.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Wouldn’t it be great if kids were identified early on as to which way they learn best and then their teaching was tailored to that? I finally figured out in college I was a visual learner (as soon as I heard about the difference in some class I took). My clue? I had to write copious notes as the professor spoke. I didn’t really need to review them that much (fortunately, since my handwriting is really BAD) but I needed to SEE the words as he said them. I suppose there’s a kinesthetic element there, too. But just listening did not cut it. Like someone else said, I can listen to books, but not sitting still. I have to be doing something like walking or driving.

Jeanine Barone

Fascinating post. For me, I learn differently depending on what I’m trying to learn. If it’s a physical activity, then I’m a kinesthetic learner. If I’m doing an interview, then I’m an auditory learner. But mostly I’m visual.

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I loved this post. I’ve always been a good listener but audio books are surprisingly hard for me. Maybe because I’m not using the right device. I listen on my laptop and don’t move around much and listening to the author speak makes me feel like I’m trapped. Also more graphic books are harder to listen to. When you read the book, you can create the world that you want to see, but when you listen to it, you can’t get away from what the author wants to say. That’s a good thing in a way, and I really need to listen to books more.

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