Ten years ago. That was when I did my first reading at a microphone. I was a complete and utter mess. Walking to the mic was equivalent to the walk to the gallows. Even thinking about speaking into the mic had me hoping and praying for a lightning bolt to take me from this mortal coil. And yet, there I was, walking up to the mic and preparing to read words that I myself actually wrote. The horror!
I neglected to mention that when I get myself into these pickles, it’s usually all or nothing. It’s a BIG BAD PICKLE! My first turn at the mic was actually in a recording studio at CBC Radio. Yep! Someone who hyperventilates at the mere imagining of sharing his words was stepping into a recording booth to–are you still with me here–SHARE. MY. WORDS! On a national scale. With people at a soundboard watching my every move. With the producer of one of the station’s most popular listener-contributed shows on CBC Radio1 (FIRST PERSON SINGULAR) smiling at me from the other side of the glass.
Go big or go home.
With that dip into the world of reading under my belt, you would think that it would begin to come easier to me…right? You’d be wrong. I was asked later in the same month to read the same piece in front of an audience of writers at the (WCDR) Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s monthly Breakfast Meeting. The request sent me into a tailspin of panic. I mean, I was ready to call 9-1-1 for myself. What did I do? I said YES. This only increased my anxiety. I thought of many ways to get out of this. I would tell them a taxi ran over my legs, so I’d be unable to make it to the meeting. I would tell them I was stung by a Brazilian Wandering Spider, and I only had a few short minutes to live…so I’d be unable to attend. Or, I could tell them I fell down one of those wells everybody always seemed to be falling down. These may seem like ludicrous alibis now, but at the time each one was viable. ANYTHING to get me out of the horror of reading my words in public. It was a double whammy of anxiety stew. Public speaking AND sharing my words. The horror!
I did it. I sat down with my back to the audience, but I did it.
The whole time I’ve been on this writing journey, I understood that public speaking and the sharing of my words were both necessary. I could not get out of either if I were to progress to anyplace of any significance. So, I hunkered down and accepted my dismal fate. I bit the bullet. I read. In public.
I think I’ve come a long way since that first audience interaction where the audience remained out of my field of vision and I sat down so that my wobbly legs were not forced to hold me vertical. I know I’ve become more comfortable…or that I’ve become more adept at hiding my discomfort. I’m not sure which one it is, but does it matter? I’m biting the bullet whenever I can, now. It hurts! I won’t ever pretend it doesn’t. But I’m doing it.
In today’s world, the writer is a self-promoting machine. It’s no longer enough to sit in a candle-lit garret room and write the next Gatsby. One has to take that work on the road. Even the shyest most introverted writer would do good to get to open mics and spread their words. Believe me when I admit to you here and now. I AM THAT SHYEST AND MOST INTROVERTED WRITER of which I speak. It’s me. I’m it. And if I can do it, anybody can.
Wherever you live, I’m sure there are open mics happening in your area. Do yourself a favour and sign up. Attend. Read at the mic. Listen. You will never get good at it if you don’t keep doing it…especially if you’re an anxiety ridden lunatic like myself. Keep this in mind before you attend your first one–people are there because they want to hear writers read. Upon arrival, you already have their support. All you have to do is read.
One more piece of advice. Whatever you write–read it aloud. Whether you intend to stand up in front of the mic and read it to an audience or not. READ IT TO YOURSELF. OUT LOUD. A writer who reads their work out loud will discover that this is one of the best editing tools in the writer’s toolbox. Hearing your words will help you to hear what works and what isn’t quite ready. The writer’s ear knows.