Read What You Write

By YARN Intern Jessica Tackett

Image courtesy of Iguana Jo (flickr.com)

Confession: I have a highly specific form of stage fright.

I can sing, I can act, I can teach in front of a classroom. When I led preschool storytimes at a public library, I used to sing and dance and throw myself around the room doing all number of embarrassing things for small children every week.

But no matter how many times I read and re-read, write and re-write, tinker and toy with a story, I will always be a bit of a nervous wreck when someone asks me to read my fiction out loud.

It’s not even something conscious – I often want to read, I volunteer to read, even! – but as soon as I start speaking, my fight-or-flight kicks in big time. The physical act of reading a passage I have written out loud to even the smallest group of classmates or confidantes leaves me sweaty and breathless. I still remember the time my college writing class hosted a reading at a local coffee shop; the papers shook in my hands as I stood in front of the microphone. I remember my tongue tripping over sentences I so carefully crafted. I remember gasping for air in between paragraphs like I was drowning in my own words.

These nervous college memories resurfaced when I attended a unique fiction reading at the Brookline Public Library – New Voices in Young Adult and Children’s Literature. The readers were a mix of writing students and published authors, and the genres and intended audiences of their work were as varied as their stage in the process. As an audience member, I was excited to attend a reading dedicated to YA fiction, and I found the stories interesting and the readers engaging. But behind these stories, I recognized some of the shaky hands and visible nerves so familiar to me. Being on the other side of the fence brought me back to that college coffee shop. This time, I remembered the polite coffee drinkers laughing at the funny bits of my story, my peers and professors making encouraging eye contact, and the rush of pleasure when I finished and it was time to listen to my friends read their brilliant pieces aloud.

In the moment, it can feel awful, but I don’t think nerves should deter anyone from participating in acts of live fiction. Taking the plunge and reading your work out loud at small readings, open mic, or other local events seems like a relatively untapped option for writers of all genres and levels of experience. Even though the act of reading itself might suck, there are still a number of great reasons to pretend you are an extrovert for an evening and read what you write.

  • Connect yourself with a community of writers and readers.

Outside of your solitary writing cave, there are other writers looking for friendships and networking. And aside from your girlfriend, your best friends, and your mom, those who attend such events are likely readers and perhaps aspiring writers as well. A reading can be a nerdy little space to find the support of like-minded individuals, or maybe even start a critique group.

  • Give yourself that “kick in the pants” you need.

My friend who runs the New Voices program has asked me to read next month. Although I have spent the past few years procrastinating on my creative writing, I have now been forced to dive back into long-abandoned Word documents. But even though my writing is rusty, I’m not dreading the event – in fact, I’m starting to feel more fondly toward writing than I have in a long time. The threat of a public performance can be motivating, in a good way.

  • Let yourself feel like the Real Writer you are

To aspiring authors, still hoping to land that agent or sign that contract or publish that short story, live readings might seem like a task reserved for a far-away, fantasy book tour. Preparing for the event can make the act of writing feel more consequential. The act of reading out loud, even with shaky hands and nervous stammers, can be empowering, even exhilarating. Even if you are already published, presenting your work out loud to a crowd can create a little local buzz for an upcoming title, gird your spirits if you are feeling nervous about your WIP, or remind the world about an older book.

Writing and reading are distinct skill sets, but even if you are a nervous public speaker it can be worth the stress to step out of your comfort zone.

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