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performance anxiety!

February 21, 2011

disclaimer: i am cavalier about this subject! i don’t mean for the post to sound snotty or brusque. but everything below is just my opinion.

i guess the question of the day is this: can you be an accomplished writer if you are a terrible public reader?

it’s a good one!

lots of people are going to answer this automatically, right off the bat – heck yes you can be an accomplished writer without being good at reading! and yes, you can. what i really mean is “author” but i always hesitate to use that word because it’s snooty i feel. people balk at the term “author.” but really think about it: reading goes absolutely hand-in-hand with writing, and i am interested when people try to argue otherwise.

okay. obviously there are really great exceptions – thomas pynchon for example. of course you can have great beautiful lovely stunning unsettling prose or poetry without reading out loud, and indeed a lot of said prose and poetry works really well on a page. it could be said that a lot of writing doesn’t need to be read because it is written for the page.

i guess that’s about right with fiction. (brief background on me as a writer: i started in poetry, didn’t write a story for years, am doing a novel for my thesis, but continue to take and write poetry much more often than i do prose. i also have taken graphica, playwriting, and screenwriting.) fiction usually sounds about the same being read out loud as it reads on the page, i think, though there are exceptions. sometimes a writer has such a magnetic reading voice (read: joseph boyden. john steffler. carolyn smart.) that a reading is an even better experience than just reading the book yourself.

i guess this question is better suited to poetry

i have friends – both poetry and prose – who tell me that they have never read/have no desire to read/don’t want to read, etc and sometimes i want to say “buck up”. it’s part of your job, especially if you are a poet. poets are absolute wordsmiths. in today’s day and age, people can download books for free, find writing on the internet, so readings might literally be your job. you might make your income from travelling around the country and reading for stipends, and then selling books at those readings.

what am i trying to get at here? oh man i don’t know. but maybe something along the lines of …. how the word sounds in the air as opposed to how it sounds when you read it in your own head. there are poets (and actually fiction writers too) that i have loved just from having read their work, and then who have been so awful reading out loud that i was turned off of them. there are writers who i’ve been completely ambivalent about and then who have rocked a reading so hard that i’ve been thrown sideways. there are writers who i have never even heard of whose books i then rushed to buy after hearing them read.

i don’t know. i just think that being able to represent your word in a spoken format is so important as a writer. there are ways that you might emphasize or pronounce words that other people would never guess. you might read line breaks differently from other people. and maybe your body moves to the rhythm of your words and you can’t help it, and it’s important for people to see that. everything has a different cadence and a different weight when spoken, and i think it’s your duty as a writer to convey that.

and me? i love readings. but you already guessed that. of course i get a little nervous. my palms tend to get sweaty. but i’ve always loved being the centre of attention (right?) so i see readings as the best time. the best rush. the most beautiful interaction. it’s your chance to get that poetry sound given to you – you know the poetry sound – that little “mmm” that exhale of breath you hear from the audience the second you finish reading and there is that heavy silence. i try my hardest at every reading. i feel that i am cheating the people who are watching me if i don’t. i project. i make sure not to hold my papers in front of my face. i look at people. i laugh and i smile and i genuinely have a good time. it’s those precious few minutes that you have to connect with strangers. you might be speaking directly into their hearts. you never know. but you have to try your hardest to split everybody wide open.

just try, you know? stage fright sucks. but sometimes it’s really fun to interact with a room full of eyes. often, people just want the best for you. hell, i want the best for you. i’ll be there at your reading, front row, cheering for you, laughing when you need people to laugh and gasping when you need people to gasp. and, as i told my friend chris:

“if the reading just starts to go downhill and you need an ABORT MISSION, i’ll stand on my chair and flash the room so you can make a quick getaway.”

that’s a promise.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 1:19 pm

    you are my favourite face in the crowd at readings. and when i say face, i mean tits.

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