Sunday, February 2, 2014

Reading In Public - Eek!

So the Athens Writers Association had their second Writers Read event, and as a good member of the organization, and as a writer who wants to learn how to be comfortable in front of a crowd, I stood up and read some of my writing.

The fear of the stage, while prevalent across people of all backgrounds, professions, and experiences, is pretty common among writers. I guess this makes sense. A lot of writers write to avoid the spotlight, letting their characters be center stage while they work in dark rooms away from the public eye. But to be a "professional" writer, one has to step out of the writing dungeon and in front of crowds - at least occasionally.

So how does one do that? Find an opportunity and throw yourself to the wolves. Okay, so it's not really that bad, although your brain and body might make you feel like it's that bad or worse. Even though I had practiced the hell out of my story (okay, I hadn't memorized it or anything) once I got on that stage the nerves set in and I almost collapsed like a derailed train before I even got the first word out. But I held it together, stumbled a little, and read my piece to the very last painful line before allowing my jiggly legs lead me off the stage and straight to the bathroom were I could shake out my jitters in peace.

One thing that helped was having the writing in hand. To see the words on the page meant I could focus on the paper and not the crowd. Some people will argue that the paper gets in the way and that you should be ballsy enough to face the people who are listening, but I'm not that ballsy - at least not yet. So I hold the paper and even though my eyes are mainly just skimming the print, (since I know the piece almost by heart), it's still gives me a false sense of comfort and helps me make my way through the reading.

Another thing that helped was remembering that at the end of the day, I'm up their to entertain. If I stumble on words, if I stutter (as I can be prone to do when anxious), if I have to pause and regain control of my voice, my breathing, my place in the story - all of that is okay, because I do it all with a smile on my face. Perhaps it's an apologetic smile, but I know that what words do flow smoothly are interesting and the ones I fumble will appear more comical or lighthearted if I have a good response to them. If I were to read, stumble, start to swear, and kick my feet, or even apologize each and every time I feel like I've screwed up (and feel is a strong word here because our own perception of how something is going is very different than the listeners/viewers perception) then the reader will be put off, offended, or "over it" long before I'm finished. If I pause and smile and continue on, they will bear with me. Since I am kind to myself when I make mistakes, they will feel compelled to be kind as well. And, frankly, if they even noticed the mistakes I make, then they're going to be kind because they came to hear people read they didn't come to heckle people. If they want to complain they'll do it after the reading is over and hopefully out of my earshot. ;)

Long story short, I taped myself reading my piece (which I'm sharing here) since I was a bit discouraged with how shaky I got on stage. This way I can remember it as something I read well, instead of something I was reading while feeling like I was experiencing one of the levels of hell - you know the one where your legs are jelly, your hands won't stop shaking, your vocal cords won't stop wobbling, you're sure you're either too loud or too quiet, and the certainty that everyone thinks you're the dumbest moron who ever spoke takes over all logical thought.

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