Tips for Writing at Mid-Year: Practice Being a ‘Public Writer’
Posted July 7, 2014on:
I’m continuing on with tips to boost your writing mid-year.
Tip 4: Practice Being a ‘Public Writer’.
Although summer is the time of beaches and barbeques, I would challenge you to add in a few ways to practice being a ‘public writer’. There are lots of ways to do this, but I am going to focus on two topics here—attending open mics and readings.
Attend More Open Mics and Read at Them
Reading your work in front of an audience is an invaluable experience for a writer. We can see when people lean toward us, laugh (one hopes at the appropriate places), and get a sense of how our words affect others. Reading aloud also helps us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. In most places there are many opportunities to read your work in public—open mics organized by writing groups, in bookstores and cafes, writing conferences, and informal gatherings with friends. Practice, practice and practice some more.
If you get to read your work in public, be gracious if someone compliments you on your writing. Don’t say that you’re not really a writer because you’re not published yet (or published widely), or let any negative comments about your work leak out. Shine in the moment.
Attend More Readings
I hear from so many writers, “I don’t have time to read or attend readings.” Reading other writers and hearing them read is part of our writerly duties. We have to make the time. Attending a reading helps us learn about writers new to us. But, it is also about building community and being visible as a public writer.
You learn so much from how an author gives a reading. You learn about their writing practice, you learn about how to answer questions skillfully, you learn about what kinds of things to reveal, and you learn about how much work an audience can digest in a given sitting. It’s a great way to observe differences in style and tone between newly minted authors and long-standing ones. We also get to practice going up to a published writer and introducing our self and talking intelligently about our own work (if asked).
I recently got to see speculative fiction writer Mary Robinette Kowal talk about her new book, Valor and Vanity. She is a former puppeteer and she incorporated puppetry into her talk (which was very cool). She dressed in an outfit that reflected the early 1800s time period that she was writes about (partly handsewn, to boot! Mary is super creative!). Her discussion of 1800s fashion became another interesting layer of the reading. Mary oriented the audience by giving some background on the ‘Glamourist Histories’ for those of us who were new to her work (we were in a minority), which I appreciated. But, instead of reading from her current novel, she did something very interesting. She gave us a teaser from the novel that she is currently writing which will complete the series and is due out in 2015. I thought that was a very cool thing to do as most people were probably going to buy the current book anyway, so it was nice to feel like we were hearing fresh material.
She also encouraged the audience to buy something from the independent book store, even if it wasn’t her book. As incentive, for people who bought any book, she gave out beautiful fans with a clever tag on them that contained information about Valor and Vanity. Not only did I learn about Mary’s work (Valor and Vanity is the 4th in the Glamourist Histories series), and buy her book, but I learned something new about how to promote one’s work in a fun, clever and ethical way. Her exemplar reading satisfied and surprised on so many levels.