When I was enrolling to study (writing and editing) years ago, one of the teachers told me a prerequisite of the course was monthly readings, and that there was an obligation that students read at least twice yearly.

Readings!  What the hell …?  Not an attractive proposition for somebody as naturally insular as myself.  The thought terrified me. I also didn’t really understand the relevance behind needing to do it.

Come the first readings I attended, I began understanding some of the merit behind the idea.  I watched the audience.  Studied how they engaged with the reader.  Gauged what worked with them and what didn’t.  Just basically examined the relationship between reader and audience to attempt to determine how and when it functioned well, and how and when it didn’t.

Usually, students were meant to read writing from various assignments they might’ve just completed.  This might’ve been something as ambitious as a novel or short story, or as simple as a sense of character or place piece.

When it came my time to read, I decided none of those would do.  Who wanted to hear about my office?  And my fiction didn’t have self-contained scenes I felt comfortable reading, or which I thought might connect.  I needed to write something specifically for the audience – or at least something that would immerse them and make them attentive to me for the time that I read.

That’s when I truly began to comprehend the importance of readings.  Writing is only a small part of the writing game.  Putting words on the page and revising the hell out of it is a great place to start, but you need to consider how your work will fare with its intended audiences.  Giving it to friends/colleagues for feedback is one thing.  Seeing how it succeeds or fails when every set of eyes is devoted to you is another matter altogether.

Does that idea work?  Could that phrase be better?  Did that joke you thought a riot get the laughs you thought it would?  Did the audience await with baited breath during the tense passages?  When you’re writing, you can only hope you’re positively answering these questions – at least in your own mind.  Readings give you concrete proof, particularly with the people who matter most: your audience (and people you hope may one day buy your book).  You’ll see what works, what doesn’t, what’s fine, and what needs improvement.

Readings are a pivotal facet of development in any writer’s writing life.  On the pragmatic side of things, if writing is something you’re pursuing, then readings are something you’ll probably have to do as a means of marketing yourself, whether you’re a best-selling author or not.

We had our first readings last night and had a great turnout, with some fantastic readings and even a couple of songs.  Our next reading is on the 26th June, 7.30–9.00pm.  Come down, try your stuff out, or listen to others, and see how things work.  Whatever the case, it’s great fun.