Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Tips for Reading Your Work to a Live Audience

I like doing readings. It's great to be in front of people in a tavern, a bookstore, a lit event at a library, reading your words to a crowd. Even if that crowd is five people. Yes, I've had that happen. Just the other night, in fact. Sometimes reading events just don't work out the way you hope. Still, you knuckle down and do it. You read with the same enthusiasm and with the same love of the words as you would for a hundred people. 

Billy Collins

There is a trick to reading aloud for an audience. Some authors are not very good at it. I attended a reading for a well-known bestselling author a few years ago (I won't say who—It was NOT Billy Collins) who was an awful reader of his own work. Reading takes a bit of acting, if you will. Now, I'm not suggesting I am the world's greatest live reader. I'm not. But I think I do know how to approach it and mostly my readings have gone pretty well.

Here are a five tips for reading your work to a live audience. 

1. Choose something that is self-contained—a scene, a chapter—something that has a reasonable beginning, middle, and end. A part of a book that needs too much explanation before reading or while reading doesn't work. It slows down your pace and energy. 

2. Read slower than you think you should. Reading aloud takes patience. Don't rush it. 

3. Vary your pace. When the action is cranking, read faster. When that lovely moment in the story is emerging, slow down. 

4. Keep up the volume. Depending on where you read, be sure people can hear you. If there's a microphone, use it if the room is big. If it's a small place, I suggest NOT using the microphone. It destroys the intimacy. 

5. Look at your audience. Try your best to lift your head and look around the room. Smile. Laugh when appropriate. Be present.

Keep these in mind when you do a radio interview, too. Obviously the microphone is necessary and you may not have a "live" audience in studio. But they are out there. That's for certain.

I recently broadcast a recorded reading for a radio station, WNIJ outside Chicago. And although I think I could have been a bit livelier with this read, I think it went pretty well. Take a look and listen to the first chapter of my memoir, October Song. 

Oh, one final thought about reading to an audience. Have fun. It should be fun. And if you have fun, your audience will, too. 


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NaNoWriMo: How Not to Stop Writing

So, you’re working through NaNoWriMo. How’s it going? No, really, how’s it truly going? Be honest. Stuck? Is the flow being knocked off balance because you are incessantly editing? You’re worried everything you’ve been writing is garbage so you go back and check it, “fix” it, and edit, edit, edit.


If you’ve read my blog before you know I have a love-hate relationship with NaNo. I get the idea; I even applaud it. But really, do we need a special month? Why can’t we just get to it anytime, anywhere? Write, people. Just write. And learning to HOLD OFF ON THE EDITING—in the month of November or any month—is key to shredding your anxiety.

If you're so concerned with your work that you are continually going over it, page-by-page, sentence-by-sentence, while you are writing, then you are wasting valuable time and effort. Stop self-editing, pulling yourself back into the prose you wrote the day before, tweaking and twisting the story...before you create it. Create first.

Here are five tips to help keep you writing and not editing.

1.  Write while listening to music. Make a playlist of songs that fit the theme of your work and time it out roughly to the amount of time you have dedicated to write. Play it loud, through speakers or in your ear buds. Let music be your guide. Write with its rhythm, think of it as a workout, and don’t stop typing until the last chord.

Some music to consider: Miles Davis, Kind of Blue; The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World; Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks.

2. So you don’t stop to look something up or do research, write in a placeholder. This was a suggestion I’ve seen in several books and web articles, including the BREVITY’S Nonfiction Blog, and I’ve been doing it in my work for years. Instead of wrecking the flow of your writing to search for information about which way the Chicago River runs, just type: LOOK UP CHICAGO RIVER INFO. This reminds you to do it later and and not while you’re writing. 

3. Consider a hard deadline and a stop sign. Don’t write until you have depleted the well. Leave a little. Write for an hour, or two. Set a timer. (Use that music!) But when the time is up, stop. Even in mid-sentence. This helps when you come back the next time. You can get going right away.

4. Turn off your Internet connection. It takes away the temptation to check your email, Twitter, or roam the web.

5. This is the time to only look forward. Do not look back. You are writing something meaningful, interesting, compelling, beautiful. But to get there, remind yourself that you have to let the flowers grow first before you prune. No pruning now. Let the garden grow, weeds and all. Then, and only then, when it is in full bloom, start the work of trimming, clipping, shaping, and fertilizing. Weeds may choke real flowers if you let them invade the garden, but the weeds in writing will only help you to see the beautiful blooms.

There’s a wonderful scene in the movie Finding Forrester when Sean Connery’s character—a recluse writer who befriends a young city boy who dreams of being a writer—teaches the young man a lesson about the craft of writing. He sits him down and demands that he get on with it. You have work to do. Go write.