I’m A Writer, Not A Reader: Reading My Writing (Out Loud And In Public) When I Was Absolutely Terrified

There are some writers who love attention; Writers who are confident speakers and get a thrill of reading their work to a captivated audience; Writers who are extraverts or just naturals when it comes to public speaking… but none of these things can be said about me. I’m a writer, not a (out loud, in public) reader. Even if I know this must change down the road…

When I was at the writing workshop I attended three weeks ago it was all about challenging oneself. Many of the workshop leaders talked about fear. They knew they were writing what they needed to write when they became afraid. When they paused and didn’t want to delve any further… except I don’t get afraid when I write. I can’t say there is nothing I won’t write about, because there is a time for everything, but writing out the horrible stuff, the painful stuff, the things I most want to forget or hope no one else ever discovers is not all that difficult for me… but sharing it is another story. I can’t share, even the easy things, with people. And that includes just letting people read my work themselves. So the idea of reading it aloud is about as fun as those dreams a lot of people get when they wind up naked in front of a large group of people and are mortified. The idea leaves me feeling exposed, bare, terrified, embarrassed and sure I’ll fuck it up.

When I was in graduate school there were opportunities to read at every residency, but I refused. A senior reading, however, was required. So I did a reading right before to prepare myself and then soldiered on through my senior reading. I used the word ‘soldiered’ because I certainly felt as if I had been through the wringer once I was done. Even though most of the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive, I just wanted to disappear for days…

So, at this conference I was certain I wouldn’t be reading anything. It was an unwritten rule for myself, “Thou shall not read aloud, because thou will surely come off as an idiot and probably have a few TMI moments. Thou shall spare everyone of this spectacle.” I considered it a public service to keep my mouth shut. But then in session with the incredibly awesome Samantha Dunn Camp, something came over me. I connected with the exercises, but they were also the most gut-wrenching, and when she asked if anyone wanted to read, I knew I couldn’t… which is exactly why I raised my hand before I could think about it. Once it was up, there was an internal struggle to put it back down. I wanted to, everything inside me was screaming to, which is the exact reason why I didn’t. Now I could only hope she didn’t notice my hand or we ran out of time. No such luck.

When she called on me, I thought, oh shit. I so was not ready. I mean this was worse than the readings back in graduate school or some kind of Open Mic night. This was something I had just written five minutes before. I hadn’t had time to polish it, develop it, become familiar with it. I hadn’t even had time to run spell check! I went up to the stage, and tried to avoid the 140 pairs of eyes (not even lying) I hoped were not looking at me. I stumbled through my piece, sometimes because I discovered typos and tried to correct myself and other times because words blurred together on my screen as I was sure I would faint, if only I was the fainting kind.

The writing itself had been about my manuscript. Or more specifically a monologue it inspired about what was not okay. It was about 700 words of reliving an experience about a doctor apologizing on behalf of my illness and realizing I was going to die at 25. It was about telling the universe to get it over with already – to make me well or kill me, but I was tired of being jerked around… and how I never expected (and wasn’t very ready for) the universe’s response: a miracle instead of death. Who would have thought?

People came up to me after, some told me I did a great job, others thanking me for reading and others with questions about what I had read. The first few people who came up to me encountered Zombie Michael. I was still in shock for a few hours after I had read, my insides felt like silly putty and I had the overwhelming urge to vomit. But I was still glad I did it. I found my voice, and confronted my fear. If I am going to write a book about this, I have to be able to talk about it, share it, let alone read my writing about it. And I did. The fear the workshop leaders talked about… this was mine, and I met it.

But just because I conquered it that one time, does not mean I am over it. It doesn’t make me a reader or public speaker or mean I am now so much more comfortable with the idea of sharing, speaking, and giving a human voice to my words on the page. But because this conference was about so many things, but mostly doing what I needed, rather than what I wanted, and growing as a writer, I did sign up for their Open Mic night, less than eight hours after this first horrific experience. I didn’t want to do it, which meant that I should do it.

Of course, this reading was much easier. For one thing, we were asked to keep it two minutes. Even though very few people actually did, I was more than happy to comply with such time limits. It meant it would be over that much quicker once I was up there. For another thing, I could plan this writing. It was still something I wrote that night; I felt strongly that it needed to be, and I wrote it twelve hours before I was supposed to read it. I was able to polish it, time it, practice it and nearly memorize it. Roy copied it to a piece of paper since I can’t really write with my hand, so I wouldn’t have to deal with my laptop on the stage.

The entire day leading up to the reading, especially right beforehand, I was nothing but nerves. Yes, I felt much more confident once I was up there and even started with a joke, but I am not sure it was because I had already survived it once, or if it was because it was planned, practiced and would be over before I could think about how I was messing it up. I think it was a little bit of all of these things. Whatever it was, I am thankful it was so much easier, because it also meant I only felt like jelly for about an hour afterward. Hey, it’s progress! 😉

At the end of the day, I’m glad I read. I didn’t want to and the idea of reading somewhere else to someone else brings that familiar queasiness, but at the same time it pushes me. I am a writer and part of being a writer is sharing your story. Otherwise it’s just journaling. I mean even with blogs, people hope others will read them, like them, respond to them. I have to be able to give readings and talk with people about what I write about at the very least, and the conference and the wonderful people who attended the conference helped me realize this. And this realization made me push myself. And I am going to keep pushing myself until my story is heard.

-DMW

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