Thursday, September 10, 2015

Readings - Do not give the listeners a long explanation.



Writers like to attend readings, either as a listener or as a reader. We gather in bookstores, in libraries, or at conferences and retreats to hear and read our work. If you have the opportunity to be a reader, ask beforehand what the ground rules are. 

Every summer I attend the Women’s Writing Retreat at the Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondacks. In recent years, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering to coach women, some of whom will be participating in reading to a group for the very first time. In this venue, each reader gets five minutes and the time starts when the reader does. Once you start your reading, the timekeeper (yes, there’s a timekeeper) sets the stop watch. You’ll get a one minute warning to wrap it up. Why so strict? There are three nights of readings and about fifty or so women signing up. If we let it roll casually, we’ll be there late into the night. That would be fun for some, but hardly fair for the last readers of the night who get an audience of very few. That’s not so good, either, for those who wanted to hear a certain reader but just couldn’t sit through all the others for their friend to finally get a chance. 

In the afternoon coaching session, we make our own mini audience, maybe five or six women there to practice before the evening. I help them with the basics. Slow down. Speak up. Slow down, really. That usually works out well. We have fun and they gain confidence to read what may, for at least some of them, be a raw personal experience. Some are reading something funny, some a personal insight piece, some a painful experience now written and expunged by reading it out loud. If the selection they have chosen is too long, we help them chose what to leave out. I explain if they are reading an excerpt it should be a stand-alone one. If an explanation is going to make a difference to set up the piece, that’s fine, but keep it brief. Keep in mind, at this venue the time starts when you do.

The most common issue is a reader going over the time. It is probably someone who didn’t come to coaching or who timed the work herself but didn’t include the explanation and set up. She often wants to keep going, looking offended that time has slipped by and we are telling her it’s over. Do not give the listeners a long explanation. Don’t teach a class, give us a history lesson, or a glossary. My best advice here is to pick your selection carefully. What you want us to hear should be in the selection you are reading or you should be able to give us just a bit of background and then get into it.

Those women who come to coaching fit their work in the time slot. They receive compliments; I receive compliments. It’s a pleasure.

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