Reading your own work aloud—even without an audience—is a helpful exercise for any writer. The sentences that seem to flow so smoothly across the page will reveal themselves to be scarred with rough patches, poor word choices like potholes, and cracks in logic.
Members of my writing group do a public reading twice a year. Not only does preparation for the reading improve the writing, the audience feedback is strongly energizing (since so often, submissions to agents and publishers evoke no feedback at all).
An audience isn’t necessary for diagnostic work; you can read a draft aloud at any stage it’s in. But if you have the chance to do a public reading, the route to success is simple: practice! The more run-throughs you do, the greater your confidence and the smoother your performance.
Key hints are:
- Lighting: If you’re over 40, you may need extra light. Maybe you’re thinking, I’ll use my laptop, no problem. Consider whether the laptop screen not only casts an unflatteringly cold light on you, but also sets up a perceived barrier between you and your audience. You may decide old-school is better.
- If you use paper, print your manuscript in a BIG font. The less light you have, the bigger your font should be. I generally print mine in 20-point BOLD, after an embarrassing episode when I couldn’t see what I was reading.
- Be sure you understand time constraints, and when you practice, time yourself. If you consistently bump up against your time limit, cut something. You don’t want to notice the clock and start rushing.
- Stand up when you practice. Even if you’re offered a chair at your reading, you’re better off on your feet. Your voice will carry farther and your breathing will improve.
- Plant your feet firmly, a little apart to prevent weaving (you don’t want your audience to get seasick), and use natural hand gestures. Practice them, too.
- Whenever you stumble over a word, circle it, so you know it’s coming and can anticipate it. If a word or phrase is too much of a tongue-twister, or you consistently read it wrong, consider changing it.
- Mark up your copy to indicate variations in intonation, speed, emphasis. If your piece has dialog, differentiate the voices.
- On performance day, have a small bottle of water handy.
- Smile and make eye contact!
If you’re like me and tend to yawn while reading aloud, you may need more oxygen. You probably won’t have the problem if you read standing up. I don’t. And you might also want to take a few deep breaths before you start!
Tomorrow: Polishing Your Instrument–Your Voice for a public reading.