Thursday, May 14, 2009

When Writers Read

Our local library sponsors a writers' collective and this week, some members of the collective participated in a public reading of their work. The event was promoted in the library's magazine, In Touch, which is available free at all the libraries in the system and online. Most of the people who attended, including me, had some connection with the writers. However, at least some folk attended out of curiosity. You know the kind - what do those fiction writer critters look like in real life, and what do they produce? And, I bet I could do it better, if I had time.

I spoke with one such person after the reading, well, really, she accosted me. I guess she needed someone to hear her opinion and I was a slow moving target.

"Wasn't (name omitted) awful?" She asked.

"Some writers have trouble presenting their work," I replied.

That didn't satisfy her and she went to to say a few more uncomplimentary things. (I don't personally know the writer she was referring to, but felt I had to defend the writer, even though I partly agreed with the criticism.)

"Every one's taste is different," I said. Yeah, that was lame, but it did end the conversation, or else it ended because we were at the front door by then.

On the way home, I thought about the encounter a bit more. Not every writer is good at reading aloud in front of a group. It's not an easy thing to do. Some people have a flair for the dramatic and can make prose that wouldn't impress me a great deal if I was reading it on the page, sound more interesting that it truly is. It's good to have that talent because these days, published writers have to do more promotion than ever. The ability to put on a decent dog and pony show helps sales. It's hard for most writers though, or so I imagine. I do know it was difficult for me, and I've only done it once, so far. The audience I spoke to had paid to hear the writers spout off on different topics they claimed to know something about and read from their work. It was more than a little bit terrifying. Would they like my words or hate them? Would they throw things? Would they slink away and say nothing at all? Fortunately, terror helped me do a reasonable job. I'm sure that isn't the case for every writer and I have no idea whether I will be able to do it again, if the opportunity arises.

It's often hard to be one of them thar fiction writer critters. We're strange. We have egos that expand and shrink on a regular basis, maybe with the cycles of the moon, maybe not. We know everyone has a story but not everyone has a compulsion to tell stories. One is calling for me now. I'd better go and write it.


M@ said...

It's a bit of a conundrum in that to read well, you have to be self-confident. To gain self-confidence, you need to do readings... problematic.

I was recently at (well, near) a poetry reading where one woman started a poem -- read the first line -- then decided to describe what it was about -- which was a Cormac McCarthy novel -- so she had to describe the plot of that too -- and then she went back to the poem, without re-reading the first line. The poem was only about six lines long, too.

If she'd just read the poem without all the rest of it, it would have been fine.

(I didn't say anything mean about her though!)

Lori Hahnel said...

It is a conundrum that you need self-confidence in order to read. But even if you aren't a naturally talented speaker, you can build up self-confidence. And there's always going to be someone who doesn't like your reading, or thinks that they could have done a better job. So go ahead and do it, is what I think.

Susan said...

I wonder if the writer in question was giving his/her first reading. Your argument that some writers have trouble presenting their work is a valid one. Writers want to write, not necessarily speak, yet they're compelled to speak if they want to get their work out there. I say kudos to the writer in question for making what, for him/her, was probably the most valiant of efforts.

Julie said...

my ego comes and goes with the writing cycle. Writing is tough. :)

I can't imagine reading my work in front of a crowd. *shudders*

Jennifer Ross said...

I shall assume for my own confidence that you aren't talking about me (plus I'm relying on our friendship; that is that you DO know ME).

However, I am somewhat disappointed that I couldn't relax and look about. This was not my first reading, or even my third and I should be getting better. I mean, I looked up tons of times when I practiced it, I had the words nearly memorized so I'd have time to find my place again, I had plenty of time since my practice runs never went over eight minutes (we had ten), I was confident.

Then I got up there and froze. I knew at the time, and I tried, but I could not tear my eyes away from that podium. They were physically glued.

And this strikes me as being so "not me" that it makes me mad. I could do just as good a job at schmoozing with the audience as the woman who went before me (she was awesome at it) except--I can't.

Pam McInnes said...

Writers like to write. They like to hunker down with pen and paper, or keyboard, and get on paper the story that nags and pokes at their minds hour after hour, day after day.

If the true writer doesn't, he'll feel like his head's going to explode!

It's really not fair to ask a writer to stand up and read what she's already painfully put on paper.

It's not fair that as introverts, writers have to put on a show - only authors of children's books should have to do that!

So, what if...what if they hire stand-ins for all that other know, like all those famous actors do...

Michelle Muto said...

I see and hear this a lot. Seems most people do think they can do it better. Maybe they can, maybe they can't. But I always tell them, until they try it themselves, they've no idea how hard it really is.

Other times, I just think that there are a lot of very unhappy people in this world.

D. B. Reynolds said...

I rarely attend readings, whether by the author or someone else. I don't like to hear other people read books, because my inner voice when I read is always different. Reading, for me, is a solitary endeavour. The results can and should be shared and discussed, but IMO not the reading.

I suspect that woman would have found fault with even the most perfect of readings.

Falcata Times said...

Its catch 22 to be honest. Writing is a very solitary profession usually. However one of the things that the author perhaps should have done is taken the time to either prepare thier work or, what I'd have done if I wasn't that confident about it, I'd have read it into a tape machine and played it back to see how it sounds. Or I'd have found a way to play to my strengths.

Some give a cracking interview but don't like reading, thats a good way round the whole problem, go in and let people know a bit about you, your book/s etc.

Its an aquired skill although I think that reading can be taught to a certain degree. Perhaps some acting classes.