Out Loud

What is that strange sound? It’s your work, your words, but it’s almost like … the words are coming out of your own mouth. Not in your head. Out loud.

Good news: chances to read your work, in front of people who are not a) related to you, b) your best friend, or c) your dog are starting to come back.

Remember? The gasps of surprise, the laughs at your jokes, the little subconscious gestures people make when they are moved by what they’re hearing—the way they shake their heads ever so slightly, lay a hand over their heart. That particular hush that falls over a crowd when people are really, really listening.

Live reading (sorry Zoom) bonds you to other humans in a way nothing else can.

But reading for a group is scary and let’s face it, we’re all a little rusty. So here are two reminders to help you get your gears moving again.

The first? Practice. Read your brainchild aloud, preferably to someone you’re related to, or your best friend, or your dog. Air it out.

The second, (less obvious): As you practice, mark up your pages with these handy symbols from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Deploy them to indicate where you want to pause, change your inflection, or maybe even insert a sound effect.

Once you’ve got your groove back, find your people.

Join a class or a writing group through your local library, college, or community education center—places that create opportunities for writers to read for a live audience. Gotham fiction instructor Scott Hess, for example, stages a reading for his students at the end of every term. Our own N. West Moss organized one for memoirists at a northern New Jersey library, where local writers shared tales of parenting, soul searching, and even having a fling with Peter Tork of the Monkees.

Or you can organize an event of your own. Ten years ago, poet JP Howard invited a few writers to her apartment for a combination open-mic night and potluck dinner. Within a few years, her Women Writers in Bloom Salon was staging readings every month at different, standing-room-only event spaces (including the Bryant Park Reading Room). Her homemade salon is so successful that JP receives grant funding to keep it going, and many of the poets who read there have published collections, including JP herself.

After more than a year of social distancing, the idea of leaving your house and interacting with strangers, much less opening yourself up and sharing your work out loud, might feel like a big ask.

It’s worth it.

You’ve been quiet long enough.

Kelly Caldwell
Dean of Faculty

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