So you know how, before you submit your writing, it is the best piece of prose ever produced and, frankly, dreams of the Booker prize (if not the Nobel one) are sure to become a reality?
And you also know how the moment you’ve sent it, or see it in print, you can’t bear to look at it, and the sight of all those adverbs physically revolt you? How even if you screw up your face, hold the paper as far a way from you as possible, and read it out of the corner of one eye, it still makes you feel sick?
I think you do.
Now imagine you not only have to read this work without thus mutating your face, you have to read it out loud. To other people. Who have the power to sell your work.
Been sick yet? In a cold sweat? I don’t blame you.
But this is the rite of passage that most writers now have to go through at some point to market their work. Birkbeck Creative Writing students compete to read at Hubbub sessions, and for fellow Faber Academy alumni, the showcase reading is one of the highlights of the course.
And sickening as it might seem at first, this reading of your own work aloud is A Good Thing. Here’s why:
- If you haven’t finished editing, you will after this—when you prepare a piece to read, you focus on the text, on the important words in each sentence that you want to emphasise, and redundant words will spring out at you for deletion.
- You don’t need to worry that a reader will fail to understand the subtle comic tone of that delightful parenthesis—you can modulate your speech to draw out every nuance for the audience.
- You can let your passion for the work shine through in how you read—it’s a great chance to generate similar energy and enthusiasm in your listeners.
- It is your work, being read aloud, in front of an assembled audience.
- It is your work, being read aloud, in front of an assembled audience (yes, that deserves repeating).
- It is the sound of your own voice. You like that, right?
- You might even enjoy it.
Plus, if you’re in a philosophical frame of mind, you can ruminate on what the process shows you about authorial voice, the intrusion of the narrator in their text, whose point of view you are actually now reading from. A glass of wine helps with this.
Or you can just derive entertainment from watching yourself practise reading in the mirror and making up actions and dances to go with the reading. A glass of wine may also help with this. But this may not help with your performance.
So if you are faced with reading out your work, and either are suffering rampant abdominal butterflies, or just want to get the most out of it, relax, remember the above and make the most of it.
If you’re still worried, try this:
- Go and see other people doing readings (Vanguard Readings, Bookslam or Hubbub are all good places for this) or listen to talking tapes, making a note of what you liked or didn’t like about the way they did it.
- Choose a self-contained extract, one that will leave the audience wanting more or really showcases the concept at the heart of your work.
- Practise to yourself. Know how much you can afford to look away from your text and into the audience.
- Practise to your cat. Nothing like a live audience to get the adrenaline going. See if you can hold Tabby’s attention or if s/he stalks out of the room.
- Practise into a tape-recorder and play yourself back. Pay attention to the speed and enunciation—make sure the words you’ve worked so hard on are clear.
- Practising includes reciting your name and the name of the piece of work. You’d be surprised what you can forget in the spotlight. Remember those poor people on Dragon’s Den if you don’t believe me.
- Don’t forget the importance of breathing and smiling (but mostly breathing—you want to get out of this alive plus your brain likes oxygen).
- Finally, remember—the text is all just there, written on the page. You just need to read it out. How hard can that be?
- Then remember to forget all of that and make it seem effortless. Again, smiling and breathing will help here. Wine is unlikely to, however tempting it might seem, although red wine is better for the throat than orange juice.
As for me, I really ought to read this back to myself aloud to see if it’s ready for submission. But I’m not sure I can bear to…
Where’s that glass of wine?
Check out Vanguard Readings, Bookslam and Hubbub. Amy will be reading at Vanguard in October.