Many don’t correlate the two: you write a book, the reader reads it. Why would you ever need to read it for an audience? But writing a book is only a small part of the process. After it’s published, it needs exposure, which means selling yourself (and thus the book) as often as possible. One of the best ways to do this is through public readings (at libraries, bookshops, etc.). Thus, we get back to the need for readings.
Many writers are petrified at the prospect of reading publically, which is unsurprising. Writing itself is a solitary pursuit. You sit alone in front of a computer, banging out your words. There’s not much public interaction, the way there would be with most other vocations. A lot of writers are also socially shy, which might be a by-product of living inside their own heads so much.
But readings have benefits aside from being a marketing tool. They allow you to see how your material works with an audience. Stuff that seems great in your head and brilliant on the page doesn’t always click when it sees the light of day. They also provide you with an avenue to feedback, either by gauging audience reaction or – if you’re interested – in chatting with them afterwards.
With so much to gain from readings, it’s something we each need to pursue, regardless of our own fears and insecurities. If those fears and insecurities become paralysing, we need to step back and assure ourselves we’ll be okay.
Here are ten tips to help you through readings …
1. Readings are not a matter of life and death
One of the biggest issues with reading in public is the fear of failure. We put crippling pressure on ourselves. What if we screw up? What if we make fools of ourselves? What if people laugh? Doubts like this race through our minds. But the truth is, So what? Lives do not depend on the outcome. Nobody will die if we screw up. The world won’t come to an end if we make fools of ourselves. If the worst happens, it’ll be a minor embarrassment but, ultimately, nobody cares. There’s no need to put pressure on yourself. It isn’t the be-all and end-all of existence. Have fun with it.
Although having said that, don’t tell yourself, I’ll be okay. Why aim for such mediocrity? Tell yourself, I’m going to be great! Tell yourself that often enough, you might even start believing it, and even if you miss that benchmark, at least you should land somewhere better off than just ‘okay’. The point is instead of forecasting the worst and anticipating the worst, visualise the best. Many people would have no trouble reading in the quiet and solitude of their own home. Reading in front of an audience actually isn’t very much different – the act itself remains the same: reading. What changes is your own perception of your capacity to handle reading publicly as opposed to reading alone. Tell yourself it’s little different.
Such a basic tip, but lots of people don’t consider it. Rehearse. Stuff that reads fine on the page might be a tongue twister when read aloud. Or you might simply struggle with words that you can otherwise read fine inside your head. So rehearse. And when you rehearse, don’t just read, but perform. Think of what needs intonations, where you need to pause, where you might make a particular expression to accentuate what’s being said. Do it in front of a mirror until you nail it. Rehearse particularly any dialogue you have. It can be difficult to distinguish different speakers in dialogue when reading aloud, so practise until you can give them character, (but more on that later).
4. Focus on THE word at hand
When reading, many of us have a tendency to scan ahead in an attempt to alert ourselves to what’s coming. This is the absolute best method to lose your place, or to even reread the same sentence twice. Missteps like this can cause panic. Focus only on the word that you’re reading at that moment. This is also the best way to immerse yourself in your material.
5. Print your material in a bigger, more spacious font
This makes it easier to read, and whilst a bigger font might amount to your material being spread across more pages, it actually helps you lose that sense of density in the text.
6. Pace yourself
When nervous, many of us try to get through whatever we’re experiencing as quickly as possible. Take your time when reading. You might think this only prolongs the agony, but again it’s a matter that pacing yourself tells your head (and thus your fears) you’re comfortable with the experience unfolding. It also improves the quality of the reading, which again leads to some nifty self-assurance.
7. Don’t drink
Having a couple of beers or a few wines might seem the perfect way to calm the nerves. That might be the case if you’re about to take a flight and you’re a nervous flyer; it doesn’t work so well when you’re required to speak (or in this case read) at length. Drinking makes us effusive. We slur. It amplifies discomfort, such as feeling stifled. When these things occur and we notice them, we become uncomfortable and that begins a vicious cycle where we notice the symptoms more, panic more, and implode. Coffee and milk are no good either, as they can clog the throat. Have a glass of water instead.
8. Hold something heavy
If you’re a shaker, hold something heavy under your material, like a clipboard, or a book. This will weigh down your hands and stop the shakes (or, at the very least, minimize them).
9. Choose an appropriate piece
If there’s children in the audience, an erotic section from your novel probably isn’t going to be the most appropriate. Or if you’re reading somewhere sunny and bright and cheery, a dramatic excerpt (or one that contains horror) is probably going to fail due to a lack of atmosphere. Think about what you’re going to read. Sometimes, it’s best to have several pieces, and to choose what’s suitable as required.
10. Edit for the different medium
Edit out bits that might work great when read in the solitude of your own home, but mightn’t for an audience. Nobody will know. Change words you might habitually mispronounce or just struggle with altogether. Dialogue can also be difficult to convey in a reading. On the page, quotation marks set visual cues as to who’s speaking, a luxury not afforded to readings. If you’re going to include dialogue and it has no attributors on the page, stick them in for the sake of the reading so it’s understandable for a listening audience. This is about making the reading work for a medium that has its own subtle demands.
Hopefully, these tips can help any nervous readers out there.
Don’t forget that our Open Mic Night is on tonight, beginning at 7.00pm and running until 9.00pm, although people usually hang around for a chat.
Everybody welcome, no bookings required, gold coin donation, and refreshments provided!
Hope to see you there.