Last night I had the opportunity to read a chapter excerpt from my memoir at the Canadian Authors Association and Professional Writers Association of Canada (both Toronto branches) first annual literary night. I’m not new to reading my prose in public but it’s been awhile since the locale was a pub. The Madison is a lovely pub in central Toronto but pubs are noisy. We were situated in their VP Corner upstairs – outside of the main pub area but that corner has no door. So I had to use my “outside voice,” which is not a problem for me. In fact one of the audience (also a reader with no voice-projection difficulty) told me he liked my reading partly because I was loud and he could hear me.
But it was a great experience, not just reading, but listening very attentively to the others read. The variety of stories and poetry was inspiring…even though some of the audience got up and left part way through – and not to be rude, but that’s the nature of readings. A few readers and friends also arrived late, but that was ok. If Mel Sarnese of the CAA hadn’t come at all, I wouldn’t have heard her read (and she has a good “outside voice,” too) part of her suspenseful short story. As we had 10 minutes each to read, Mel had to leave us dangling. Now I have to buy the anthology her book is in (Canadian Voices published by Bookland Press 2009, available at http://www.amazon.ca and http://www.chaptersindigo.ca). But isn’t that one purpose of public readings – get the audience interested in the book – to buy it if and when it is published?
Another purpose is to see how you actually fare at reading your writing out loud. Writers sit alone in front of their computers (even if at Tim Horton’s or Starbucks) and commiserate with their writing. What you write and when you speak it are two different situations. Reading it out loud often points out what really works and what doesn’t. Every word repetition and grammar error shouts at you.
But you can iron out the grammar and word kinks before reading in public. You can read aloud on your own (preferably recording it and playing it back) and then you will see not only glaring grammar errors but where your voice sputters, waivers, or if you are reading-fast-like-a-racing-car.
You can also join a writing critique group – preferably in-person. Not only will you get the reading practice but you will get feedback from other writers. They come to your work fresh with an objective view while you have been wrapped up in the old subjective. I’ve been running a writing critique group in Toronto for almost 10 years – the in-person kind and I’ve learned a lot as well as helped other writers. And yes, here comes the plug – the group is The East End Writers’ Group and information about it is on my website at http://www.samcraw.com. Just click on “East End Writers.”
And what did I read? The beginning of my chapter, Riding the Rails with Dad. If you want to read some of it, you’ll have to go to my blog posting of November 20, 2009 for a snip of the chapter. Like Mel Sarnese I’m not giving all the goods away upfront.