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Writing Prompt #17: Read Aloud

August 30, 2010

I call it charging my rel-batteries. You see, in the Okal Rel Universe where my novel series is set, people power up by flying faster than the speed of light. The battery-charging is actually a by-product of the trip, but the charge keeps the lights on when people are planet-bound — just like a writer needs to keep alive the joy of creativity in the mundane world.

I charge my writing batteries via Saturday morning readings to my family and a few special friends. I can’t recall exactly when it started. Certainly long before my first blog entry tagged “reading” in 2009 ( http://okalrel.blogspot.com/search/label/reading). Reading aloud to friends and family has been part of my creative process for years and I recommend it heartily to writers at risk of forgetting why they have to write. A little live action can keep you charged up for a long time.

“What,” you say, “reading aloud, fun? Whenever I need to do it, I’m terrified.” I have a friend who is a great writer but would rather walk across hot coals than read aloud. If that describes you, fair enough. But if you get a kick out of doing it when you have the chance, build yourself some extra opportunities to charge up.

“Easy for you to say!” you respond. “My family would never sit still for a reading of any sort, let alone mine!” I’m not denying the challenges. Audiences are notoriously difficult to round up and keep still long enough to give you the benefit of their attention. I recommend crepes, cream and strawberries or your own favorite meal to gather a few sympathetic loved ones for the event. If in doubt of your reception, arrange for at least one other reader to take part whether they read from their own work or something else they life. Or start with one, special friend you can trust to show you some support. Then, at least until you have established the tradition, keep it short. Strive for a “no interruptions” policy, but if people have to come and go, smile and wave without surrendering the floor. If you set a fixed duration or length-of-passage limit, stick to the plan and resist the temptation to plough on when signs of restlessness set in, no matter how politely you are begged to continue with the next chapter. If possible, it’s best to leave them wanting more not regretting they’d agreed to take part!

If you’re already a member of a writer’s workshop, suggest a “criticism” holiday once every now and then, at which members read a short passage aloud to each other for the sheer joy of the experience.

It helps if you can trust the audience not to throw rotten fruit, or its verbal equivalents, but reading from a work-in-progress can be useful to a writer for more reasons than one. If there are good things about it, you’ll discover it in the reactions of the listeners and if there are long, boring passages — ditto. Confusing bits announce themselves in the form of questions or puzzled looks. People’s reactions are more reliable than what they say they feel, and seeing your listeners react helps you learn. But most importantly, being a story-teller in the flesh, for an audience, charges your batteries for the long hours of working, alone, on the next installment.

So here’s the homework: find someone in your life you can read aloud to for at least five minutes, just for the pleasure of doing it.

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