The first time reading your work in front of an audience can be both exciting and terrifying. It’s exciting because we get to share our work; it’s terrifying because we are exposing our heart and soul and opening ourselves up to criticism. Writers are not the most social creatures. We spend the better part of our day creating worlds, talking to our characters, (sometimes arguing with them), and talking to ourselves. Our usual company is the computer, a blank page, our words and perhaps the family pet. There will come a time when we will have to share our work, either in a workshop setting or, as we all hope, to promote our book.
I read my work for the first time a few weeks ago for my Writer’s Studio class. I’d shared some of my work in workshops, but this was the first time I stood in front of a microphone and read to a roomful of people. As an actress, I am used to standing in front of people, but I found the first reading of my own work challenging. I was surprised how much preparation and practice was required for my first reading.
The key to a good reading is comprised of several elements: choosing the right piece, finding your pace and volume, timing and practice.
Choose a piece that highlights your work. A section that has a beginning, middle and end is ideal, but it’s not necessary and sometimes it’s not an option depending on your work- if it captures the audience’s attention, draws them into your world and provokes them want to hear more you’ve done your job.
Pace is important. You want to generate the right tone and inflection to keep the audience interested. It’s critical to find the right balance for speed. Too fast and you will lose your listeners, too slow and you might put them to sleep. Your pace will also affect your timing, so finding the right pace ties into the piece of your work you’ve chosen to read.
The timing of your reading is important, especially if you’re on a panel and are only given a certain amount of time to read. I was given ten minutes for my reading. I chose a short piece I’d previously published that was about 6 minutes, and then I read an excerpt of a work in process that was about three minutes. Included in my ten-minute reading was my introduction and background on my work. I read my selections out loud in several stages, timing myself on each section. It took some time to find the right pace that allowed me to read my choices and stay within my time limit.
It takes practice to combine all these elements for a polished reading. Part of that practice is getting comfortable and learning to negotiate a microphone. Sometimes there will be a technician to help you, but you should learn how to regulate the volume of your voice by finding the right angle and distance from your mouth to the mic.
Reading our work in public is a skill we should all master. You can practice with your writing community, open mic nights or even reading out loud to family and friends. If you are fortunate enough to publish your book and be invited on tour, your reading might very well be the stimulation for increasing your book sales.
The first read will always be a bit intimidating, but once you get over that first hurdle, you’ll know what to expect the second time around – it does get easier.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.