The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘open mics

Affirmations-366Days#305: I support my writing community by attending author readings and open mics.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Affirmations-366Days#86: I find new and creative ways to be a good literary citizen.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

In May of 2013, I completed the 12 week ‘Mentored Workshop’ course as partial fulfillment toward a Certificate in Creative Writing from my local community college’s Creative Writing Program. The weekly three hour workshop covered a broad range of topics for advanced students including polishing, revising and submitting work for publication. Besides manuscript critique and craft readings, students were also expected to attend several author readings, read work at open mikes, volunteer to help with one of the Creative Writing Program’s events, and write three online book reviews. Our teacher created these additional requirements to strengthen our visibility as ‘literary citizens within a community of writers’.

That was the first time I heard the term ‘literary citizen’. I’ve since seen it used by many writers to mean similar things. Literary citizens are writers who are actively engaged in building their careers and helping to maintain and sustain fellowship among other writers.

Here are my 7 favorite ways of being a literary citizen:

Read Your Work in Public

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.  Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). 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. See Allison Williams’s great post on the ‘7 Deadly Sins of Public Reading’ for Brevity. (I found this post through the excellent Practicing Writing blog, created by Erika Dreifus).

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).

How many readings did you attend during 2015? Shoot to double that this year.

Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know

I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal

Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! I’ve been a subscriber to Poets & Writers for the past two years and it is an invaluable resource.

Develop and Nurture Writing Communities

For years, I labored alone with my writing or joined writing groups that were dysfunctional. Despite these past experiences, I developed decent skills on giving feedback and support.  I, however, didn’t know how to ask for support or even what kinds of writing support might be good for me. That has changed dramatically. Over the past 6 years, I have developed layers and layers of yummy writing support, both online and face to face. Some fell into my lap and others I actively sought out (e.g. monthly critique group). I support my writing community by interviewing authors for my blog, connecting writers with each other, serving on a committee that administers the creative writing program I mentioned above, and widely sharing resources about writing opportunities.

Do Book Reviews and Spread the Word about Books You Love

My mentored workshop emphasized the importance of writing reviews. I know reviews serve an important role in the writing community. Good reviews take time and energy and like many, I find that reviews remain on my ‘gee, that would be nice to do’ list without any upward movement. Our teacher made this task easier by telling us that we could choose any three books (recently published or not) and to keep the reviews short. Since then I have worked to do a few reviews here on the blog, but also on Goodreads and other social media.

There is also the less onerous, but often helpful shout out on Twitter using the hashtag #fridayreads

Submit Your Work and Strive for 99 Rejections (and some acceptances)

Years ago, my writing teacher, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way. Every year, I have come close to doubling the number of submissions I make. I continue to receive a fair amount of rejections.

However, I also received a few lovely emails from editors who although declined the piece submitted, encouraged me to submit something else. The submission and rejection cycle is also one of building relationships with editors whose work you admire. Think of it as deepening your apprenticeship.

Can you up your rate of submission by 10-15% this year?

 

What are your favorite ways of being a good literary citizen?

 

 

Affirmations-366Days#51: I enjoy sharing my work with new audiences. I gratefully participate in open mics.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

Tip 5:  Hone Your Performance Skills

A few weeks ago I wrote about how important it is to practice being a ‘public writer’, especially getting comfortable reading one’s work. I got comments both on the blog and by email about how challenging it is for some of us to read our work and claim our writing identities. I wanted to return to this subject and I first went to my bookshelf to see what insights other writers have shared. I have many many writing books and to my surprise most of them are completely silent on how to cultivate our performance skills as a writer. This is so striking given that writers labor to bring our work before an audience. Dare I say, many of us dream of that time when we will stand in front of an audience reading from our published work. How interesting then it is that we have gaps in preparing for that dreamed of day. Most writing guides will say ‘practice’, but often leaves out the ‘how’.

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So here are some things that may be useful in honing one’s skills for readings, specifically at open mics:

1) Practice what you will read. OK, you already know this, but I’ll say it anyway. Practice for the rhythm of the words. Feel free to eliminate some words, if that makes for a smoother reading. Practice at least ten times. And, usually when people are nervous, they read faster. Try to get a sense of what reading faster will look like for your piece.

2) When you get up to the mike, pause and smile. It relaxes you and the audience. Remember, they are on your side. Don’t get freaked out if you have to adjust the mike, take a moment to get it right.

3) Don’t use up your time by going into a long detailed account of yourself and your work. I’ve seen many writers use a third of their time going into a lengthy biography. We can’t possibly grasp the complexity of you or your work in 5-8 minutes. Think seduction and foreplay. Less is more. Make them want more. Keep it short and they will. They will come up later and ask you plenty of questions.

When I read, I’ll usually say something like: “I’m Michele Tracy Berger [say your name even if the announcer has said it. People are often talking or drinking in between one writer leaving the stage and another coming to it ], I’m a fiction writer and I’m working on a collection of speculative fiction short stories. I’m reading from an excerpt from the story….” Let people know if you are reading from the beginning, middle or end.

4) Dress nicely—whatever that means to you. Remember, you are cultivating yourself as someone who wants to paid for their writing. A professional. You never know when a potential editor, agent or buyer is in the audience.

5) Nerves are fine, but if you are super anxious, think about drinking some calming tea beforehand or investigating some homeopathic remedies that deal with anxiety (e.g. Bach Flower Rescue Remedy).

6) Choose a piece that you can be a clear channel for when you read it to the audience. You need some emotional distance from a piece in order to convey the power of it. Ironic, I know.

7) Print out your piece in a large font, so it is easy to read. Decide whether you want to staple it or slide the pages across the podium (if there is one). Practice your technique. I’ve seen people who get their pages out of order, fumble and/or drop their papers.

8) Bring some cough drops (e.g. Fisherman’s Friend or Hall’s or Ricola). [this tip I learned from Marjorie Hudson]

9) Have a bottle of water with you. Nervousness closes up the throat.

10) Know the piece well enough so that you can look up and engage the audience periodically. You may want to have 1-2 lines memorized.

11) Be aware of your posture. Stand up straight.

12) Time your piece and find the most appropriate place to end. Try not to get caught by the buzzer, bell or emcee. End at a juicy and interesting place. I actually like to go 30 seconds under time.

13) Smile when you finish and remember to say ‘Thank you’. Someone just witnessed your work and tried to be present for it. Also, thank the organizers of the event (or, you can also do this when you introduce yourself). Hold the space as people are applauding (even if the applause is just polite).

14) Don’t hustle out of there after you read—that’s bad open mic etiquette. Stick around and be that supportive presence for other writers.

Got tips on this topic? Please share.

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.

open-mic_16-300x269

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.

We all need encouragement and support for our writing lives. And, the beginning of the year invites us to try out new ideas. Here is a list of strategies that have bolstered my writing life.  May they support and inspire you.

1) Plan a Submission Party

writinggroup071

In my first writing group, more than fifteen years ago, I learned about the power of holding at least one ‘submission party’ during the year. A submission party meant that we planned a date and we all brought our polished manuscripts, manila envelopes, our bundle of SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes –yes, back in those days you had to send manuscripts via snail mail and with a SASE!), and food and drink to someone’s house. We helped each other write query letters, find new markets to submit work, develop submission charts, and triple check final copies of stories. And, the best part of all, we’d each leave with several stuffed packets ready to mail to magazine and anthology editors and contest judges.  These parties uplifted us and took the fear, dread and challenge out of submitting. And, they helped us get a batch of stories into the mail at one time.

At your next writers’ group meeting, suggest hosting a submission party during the first quarter of the year. And, if you’re not in a group (Well, you should be! When focused friendly people come together to support each other, they can produce incredible results!), then ask a writing buddy, if he or she would be interested in executing this idea on a smaller scale.

2) Practice Being a Writer in Publicdscn2986mcintyrereading31

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.  Readings help us to become comfortable with our work no matter what the reaction. We meet new friends and learn about the work of other writers. I did three readings last year (two of which I helped to create). 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.

How many readings did you participate in during 2012? Shoot to double this number in 2013.

3) Volunteer to Support and Serve a Published Writer That You Know

I have been privileged to accompany one of my writing teachers, Marjorie Hudson, to several speaking events and workshops. I learned invaluable things watching a working writer deal with the public aspect of a writing life: speaking, promoting, coaching, and book signing.

Writers always need more support. If you have a friend or an acquaintance who has recently published a book, offer to help them promote it in some way. If you don’t know any published writers, this is a great way to connect with a local writer whose work that you admire.

Be a personal assistant, or driver, for a day. If they are scheduled to give readings, see if you can help carry books, set up a display, sell books, and assist with small tasks that would make their life easier. You can learn a lot from watching how other writers handle being in the public eye.

4) Strive for 99 Rejections

Years ago, Marjorie Hudson, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in the workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.

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I love Chris Offutt’s essay, ‘The Eleventh Draft’, where he discusses how he dealt with the fear of rejection:

“The notion of submitting anything to a magazine filled me with terror. A stranger would read my precious words, judge them deficient, and reject them, which meant I was worthless. A poet friend was so astonished by my inaction that he shamed me into sending stories out. My goal, however, was not publication, which was still too scary a thought. My goal was a hundred rejections a year.

I mailed my stories in multiple submissions and waited eagerly for their return, which they promptly did. Each rejection brought me that much closer to my goal—a cause for celebration, rather than depression. Eventually disaster struck. The Coe Review published my first story in spring 1990. The magazine was in the small industrial town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a circulation that barely surpassed the city limits. The payment was one copy of the magazine, and the editor spelled my name wrong. Nevertheless, I felt valid in every way—I was no longer a hillbilly with a pencil full of dreams. I was a real live writer.”

The common suggestion is for writers to have at least five pieces submitted at any given time.

Are you close to 99 rejections? Every time you receive one, think of it as a step forward in your writing apprenticeship.  (BTW, holding a submissions party, regularly, can help you send out more material faster.)

5) Create Some Writing Affirmations

An affirmation is a short, simple, positive declarative phrase that as Eric Maisel says, in Coaching The Artist Within, “you say to yourself because you want to think a certain way…or because you want to aim yourself in a positive direction.” Writers can benefit from using affirmations as our inner critics, judges, and evaluators are often uninvited guests during our writing sessions.

A decade ago, I made a tape recording of me saying writing affirmations. I was living in California, on a post-doctoral fellowship, not a member of any writing group, and accumulating rejections at rate that made me gnash my teeth daily.  At that point in my life the inner critic often got the best of me. I needed something to remind me of my basic goodness, as a human being, and encourage me as a writer.

Listening back to them now, it’s clear that I don’t have that same inner wobbly feeling about claiming writing as a love, devotion, craft and profession.  Nor do I have the same fears. But those early affirmations (i.e. I am a writer!), spoken with conviction definitely built a bridge from there to here.

Writing, speaking and even recording affirmations creates a powerful state of mind. Here are some to get you started.

6) Commitment Publicly to a Writing Goal and Ask for Accountability

As a coach, I know that to make long lasting positive changes, we need structure and accountability. Over the past year, I’ve seen many writers use their virtual networks (as well as face to face ones) to get support in meeting an important writing goal. Editor, author advocate and She Writes publisher, Brooke Warner publicly announced her intention of finishing a book by a certain date. She also asked for support to help keep her accountable while writing and this request yielded wonders!

What’s one writing goal you’d consider announcing publicly and asking for accountability?

7) Buy a New Subscription to a Writing Magazine and/or Literary Journal

Where do you learn about the field of publishing? How do you find out about new writers? We do this in many ways, through blogs, friends, librarians and visits to bookstores. However, writing magazines and literary journals can also play a key role in our professional development. You’ve probably been thinking about treating yourself to new subscription to a writing magazine or literary journal for some time. Do it! When I finish this post, I’m off to subscribe to Poets and Writers.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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