In many cases, writers tend to be introverts. We sit in solitude, our most beloved companions of the workday being our computers and coffee, laptops and latte. Our playmates are pens, pencils, and paper.
Here’s a little secret: putting yourselves in the guise of an extrovert can make your writing soar.
This time thirty years ago, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was also fairly sure I did not want to be a public speaker. I’ve always preferred writing the speech to delivering it. That’s still true today.
This time two years ago, you never could have convinced me that I would be reading my fiction in front of crowds. If you’d told me I was destined to read my work on radio, I’d have turned the dial on you.
However, in 2007 I read my fiction aloud at seven public events-including a spot on Baltimore’s National Public Radio station, WYPR. I found that once I opened the door to reading my work in public, the invitations to read kept pouring in.
It all began in 2006 when fellow members of a local writing organization encouraged me to join them for a reading. Because it was months away, I was brave enough to agree. As the date crept closer, I wanted to creep away. But how painful could reading a story for ten minutes in Baltimore’s Patterson Theater be? After all, there was no way I could forget what I was going to say next-because it was all there in writing.
This wasn’t a speech. I had my written work to protect me.
Since my first reading at the historic theater, I’ve been a featured author at the Baltimore Book festival twice-the Mid Atlantic’s premier celebration of the literary arts. I’ve participated in readings at cafes, bookstores, art galleries, and even the Baltimore Authors’ Showcase.
What I’ve found is that the more I read in front of an audience, the easier it gets. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way that can help-especially if you find that butterflies have taken up residence inside you.
Prepare something especially for the event. Most of my stories tend to be longer. But I’m not a fan of lifting a quick ten pages out of a story or novel and reading it as-is. I craft my reading selection so that it either stands alone as an abridged version of the larger work, or has some sort of story arc. The selection can certainly end on a cliffhanger, causing the audience to crave more. But don’t just lift ten pages out of your 300 page pile.
Tailor your large print edition. When you’re reading from a work that has been published, it’s a nice touch to read directly from the magazine, journal, or anthology. However, the advice I got from a writing friend is worth its weight in 14k. Print out a copy of your reading material in large print, about 14 point. If a paragraph breaks between two pages, push it forward. Highlight words you want to emphasize. These touches make it easier to read (and harder to stumble) when you’re in the spotlight.
Practice your performance. Once you know what you’re going to read, practice it. Time yourself to make sure you stay within the limits. Read out loud to yourself at least three or four times, standing in front of a mirror. Make eye contact with yourself. Know your story inside and out. If there are words that make you stumble, rewrite them for the reading. Remember, this is the ìreading versionî of your story or excerpt. Do everything you can to make it work.
Get up there. You’re prepared, you’re polished, you know your story so well you could recite it. But it’s still easy to relent to your queasy stomach, short breath, or pounding heart. The only thing left to do is to get up there and do it. Remember, you have your writing right there in front. Just read it.
Still not convinced? I wouldn’t have been either, had my writing friends not given me a little push. So get them to push you. Declare your interest to read, drop hints, go ahead and ask-writing friends, organizations, bookstores, festivals, anywhere that may benefit from a free event and offer you an audience.
Now, as we enter 2008, I have a regular fiction-reading schedule lined up year-long at a local art gallery in the Inner Harbor. And who knows what else the year has in store – for me or for you.
Just remember: you’re not delivering a speech and don’t have to flow wit on cue. You’re reading. You have your written work to protect you.
Eric D. Goodman is a full-time writer and editor. His work as been published in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Review, Arabesques Review, To Be Read Aloud, On Stage Magazine, Travel Insights, Coloquio, Neck of My Guitar, The Potomac and is forthcoming in Slow Trains, Scribble, JMWW, and Write Here Write Now. Eric seeks an agent for TRACKS, his novel in stories and has a children’s book being published later this year. Visit Writeful, Eric’s literary weblog, at http://www.writeful.blogspot.com.