I remember the first time I read my fiction in front of an audience. Sitting there, listening to the readers before me, it felt like I was waiting my turn to jump off a cliff. And if you’ve ever been bungee jumping, that is a close approximation of the feeling.
I was so afraid I was going to bomb that I didn’t even tell my friends I was reading until the last minute – a decision I regretted. I have a few more readings under my belt now, and it does get less nerve wracking each time. The last reading I did was at the KGB bar in New York, and, unlike in previous readings, my hands weren’t even shaking…ok maybe a little bit.
Our Winter Student and Faculty Reading is coming up here in Amsterdam and a number of our students will be reading for the first time. Here are my top tips:
- Practice. Also in front of people. Conscript a friend or family member to serve as your audience (pets do not count). When you’re comfortable enough to look up occasionally and make eye contact, you’re good to go.
- Print your piece double-spaced in a large, serif font for easy reading (you can’t go wrong with Times New Roman), and insert page breaks where you have a natural pause, like at the end of a paragraph or stanza. Also number your pages just in case.
- Think about how you want to use emphasis, pacing, inflection, and pauses to add energy and drama to your piece. Avoid speaking in a monotone. I put words in bold that I want to give a bit more emphasis and write out [PAUSE] to remind myself where to give a dramatic moment or important line a bit more breathing room.
- A little mental trick: imagine you are your narrator. This doesn’t mean you need to get all performative about it – with strange voices or accents (unless you’re really good at accents) – but mentally handing the job over to your narrator will help you feel less self-conscious and will put you in the right headspace to give a convincing read.
- Take deep breaths. Seriously, before you go on, breathe deeply and slowly – count to six on the inhale and twelve on the exhale. This has a calming effect on your central nervous system, counteracting that panicked feeling that can befall first time readers.
- Read slowly. You want to aim for around 160 words per minute – you can time yourself in practice. During the actual reading, all that adrenaline racing around your bloodstream is going to make you naturally speedy. To compensate you need to consciously slow down. If it feels like you’re reading a little too slow, you’re probably on target.
- Pretend like you’re speaking to the people in the very back row. This will ensure you’re reading loudly enough.
- Don’t forget to invite your friends and family!