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by Jennifer Worick

I have a desperate need to have my voice heard…on the page. But sometimes life and paying gigs get in the way. So my voice becomes strangled or mute, as I struggle to make time to write. I get overwhelmed by the scope of my project, even while muttering “bird by bird” in front of the keyboard.

So I’ve had to find solutions to stay inspired. Since I have a hard time being accountable to myself, I’ve taken classes and workshops, joined a writing group, and attended writing conferences (such as the Whidbey Island Writers Conference next month!). I’ve applied for residencies, such as Hedgebrook, and submitted to contests and publications.

And I’ve set up readings. I figured a public reading of my work-in-progress would be a great way to have my writing be heard…in this case, literally. So, along with three other writerly friends, I set up a reading at an artists’ collective and invited everyone I knew. Between us, we managed to assemble an audience of 30.

It made me sick.

I was nauseous the entire day of the event and thought I was going to lose it waiting for my turn at the mic. Not only was I suffering from my usual performance anxiety, I was sick at the thought of sharing my work. As a memoirist, I have to cope with the dual fear of being judged for my writing as well as what I’m writing about.

No pressure, right?
I read that night despite or maybe because of my fears, and I felt high afterwards. I brought my work into the world and it was gratifying and glorious.

In addition, combining forces with other powerful woman made the event greater than the sum of its already considerable parts. Rather than rotate between living rooms, doing a public reading together made us all up our game as we worked collaboratively to pull off a successful event. We went from secretive and self-protective to supportive and nurturing. I became a better writer as a result of that reading.

And it kept my project moving forward, propelled by the energy in the room and in my words. I recommend every writer find a way to read her work in front of an audience. Based on the evenings that I’ve since helped to coordinate, I’ve come up with some practical considerations to help you host your own reading.

Think about a theme. The most recent reading I participated in was loosely themed around the idea of “Family Matters,” as we all were reading something based on an aspect of family. Think about gathering together writers working in a specific genre, such as poetry or short stories, or around a topic, such as love or aging.

Track down a great venue. Brainstorm locations for your reading—think about favorite restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops that might be inclined to host your event after hours or in a private area. Some venues will waive a room fee if you meet a minimum drink or food order. Other free or inexpensive locations include libraries, community centers, and writing centers.

Remember it’s a show. For one night only, you are an event planner as well as a writer. Think about the details that will optimize your guests’ experience, including seating, temperature, accessibility, sight lines, and timing (maybe a break between the first and second group of readers will give the audience time to stretch their legs and refresh their drink, for example). Also take into account the needs of the writers: Is the light sufficient for reading? Does someone need a stool or lectern? Is the mic volume loud enough to reach the folks in the back of the room? Is someone introducing each reader or acting as the emcee?

Don’t assume. When it comes to communicating with a venue, always spell out your needs and get your questions answered, no matter how small or insignificant they seem. Pin down details regarding beverage permit, drink minimum, room fee, room capacity, parking, length of event, A/V needs, etc. Keep an e-mail and paper trail of all your communications, and arrive early to check over the room and consult with the venue staff.

Practice, practice, practice. While I’d love to think that my writing speaks for itself, during a reading, I am literally speaking the words I’ve strung together. It’s a performance, so sell it. Time yourself, read your piece out loud several times, underline things you want to verbally emphasize, try on different voices if there’s dialogue, and practice cadence if it’s poetry. Print out your piece using 14-point type and make sure sentences don’t carry over to the next page. You want to complete your thought before pausing to turn the page. Above all, don’t be shy; set loose that voice you hear in your head when you are writing.

Promote, promote, promote. Promotion might not come naturally to you, but consider it good practice for when it comes time to publicize your book. Create a Facebook event page and ask all the participants to mobilize their social networks. E-mail your tribe, and personally invite them to the reading. Post in the event listings on all area newspapers and websites (you can add details via online forms for free). Don’t forget to leverage the venue’s resources—ask the space to promote via Twitter and their own website. Hand out flyers to friends and coworkers. Ratchet up the social media as the event approaches; it may seem like overkill but remember that most of your online friends won’t see every status update or tweet and it would be a shame if they missed out on the opportunity to hear your work and support you in the process.

Have fun. Gesture, emphasize, enunciate, make eye contact now and again. Everyone is there to be supportive, yes, but also to be entertained. Again, sell it, and remember to enjoy the moment. You have the opportunity to get an immediate response from your “reader,” a rare gift for an author. Speaking of feedback…

Frame the conversation. Think about what kind of feedback you can and can’t handle and ask guests for specific comments. My memoir is a whole different beast than books I’ve written before and I have realized that I’m both sensitive about the material and the writing itself. So I’m doubly prone to get defensive. With that in mind, I asked attendees to let me know if any parts of my piece were hard to follow, if they wanted more of something, and what resonated most with them. Inviting controlled feedback ensured that I received constructive, not crippling, comments.

With the same thoughtfulness that you bring to your writing, a works-in-progress reading can keep you inspired, confident, and moving forward with your project.

 

f6a05f5a22600a7d936219.L._V192665619_SX200_Jennifer Worick is a New York Times best-selling author who’s published more than 25 books. She’s also a publishing consultant, helping aspiring authors write book proposals and realize their publishing dreams; find out more at bizofbooks.com. She’ll be reading from her upcoming memoir on October 23 during Lit Crawl Seattle

 

 

 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

              

Jennifer Worick
About Jennifer Worick

2 Comments

  • G. Elizabeth Kretchmer
    10:33 AM - 7 October, 2014

    Thanks for your timely post as I’m about to embark on a collaborative book tour in the Bay Area. One of your suggestions is so obvious that I’ve overlooked the idea, which is to ask my tribe to spread the word on their own social media sites.

    Wish me luck. And if you’re in the Bay Area at the end of October, please come see me. Events are posted on my website: http://www.gekretchmer.com.

  • Lee Tyler
    2:15 PM - 9 October, 2014

    It is right that your article was included in a newspaper, if I read correctly on Twitter, as this gives a host of tips on hosting a reading.

    I’ve come away with the a list of items and also a few that are part of my growth as a writer.

    Thank you for this!

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