Story read out loud in front of the peoples

The reading last night was lovely. I’m now convinced that around five minutes is the perfect length for a reading. I have a shockingly short attention span, but for five minutes long even I can stay focussed.

Of course now I have a whole stack of books I have to pick up to find out what happens next. Everyone was so funny and sweet and excellent. I do so love being read to. Much better than doing the reading . . .

Three years ago I talked about my very first readings and how not fun they were. I’ve read many many many times since then. I no longer experience blind terror, at this stage the terror has eyes and can spot all the people in the room yawning and looking bored, and instead of convulsing my whole body (particularly my vocal chords) the terror just messes with my hands. I also hardly ever throw up or feel like I’m going to now. A vast improvement, no?

I still don’t really enjoy reading.

The hardest part is the minutes just before I read: the waiting-to-read part. I find myself in this strange hyper uncomfortable space not entirely capable of hearing what is going on around me, except my own name, cause when I hear it that means it’s time. I pick up my papers, read the words, sometimes the wrong ones, sometimes skipping a few, aware that my hands could get so out of control that the pages go flying, or I’ll spill water everywhere, or my stomach could revolt. For the last year or so none of those things have happened. I’ve gotten to the end without making too great a fool of myself. Progress!

My reward is the after-reading feeling. A lovely adrenaline rush that stay for ages and makes me feel like I’m floating and invincible and witty and charming. I can get by on that buzz for hours.

I’d still MUCH rather be read to.

How about you lot? Anyone got any horror stories of readings gone wrong to share?


  1. Rebecca on #

    jeez. i get incredibly nervous doing anything in front of people. i get nervous making a sitdown informal presentation in class. sometimes i even get nervous asking questions in class. and god help me if i have to actually stand up and give a presentation. speech class, both high school and college, was living hell. i couldn’t eat anything all day before giving a speech. once, i got it into my head to play piano in front of the entire high school. it ruined the whole day beforehand. and then, when i messed up horribly during the performance, it ruined the whole rest of the day after. i swore after that i’d never subject myself to such terror again. i ask people what classes they have to give presentations in just so that i’ll know to avoid taking them. i am way better one-on-one.

    doing a reading would terrify me, needless to say. i am in awe of those of you who can get up and do stuff like that. you didn’t seem nervous at all when i saw you speak.

  2. Justine on #

    you didn’t seem nervous at all when i saw you speak.

    Talking off the cuff in front of people doesn’t bother me much at all. I really enjoy doing panels and the kind of presentation you saw. (Q&A is always my favourite part.) But then I’ve been doing stuff like that for years and years now. So any nervousness I used to have is pretty much gone now.

    It’s when I have to read something out loud that I wrote that I start to quake. But like I said it’s getting better.

    I know it’s hard to believe but the more practice you get talking in front of people the easier it gets. Of course, there’s nothing that says you have to get better at it. There are plenty of successful writers who do no public appearances.

  3. letitia on #

    i thought i was the only one who felt that way…and that it was a side affect of not being a “real” writer, aka published. nice to know i’ll be quietly vomiting after readings for years to come.

    i feel like i need covet and chastize a little. you’re a fiction writer and in the enviable position of being a fabulous one. people like stories, and even the yawning people listen politely because they’ve been trained for stories.

    i’m a poet. i’m not a narrative poet, and contrary to popular sentiment, this does not mean i’m a bad poet either. when people give me blank looks at a reading, it’s for real. it doesn’t mean that my writing isn’t their particular cup of tea. it’s the frozen, blank, terrified, glassy-eyed, how’d i wind up here, out-to-lunch gaze of people missing all my beautiful words because they want a story…or shakespeare or frost…but that’s a tale for another time.

    well, i can’t complain too much because in an informal survey of my poet friends, we’ve decided that we’re pretty much universally inspired to write poems because of all the fiction we consume. even the poets are story-addicts. (WHERE’S MY NEXT LARBALESTIER BOOK ALREADY?!) is there any chance you fiction writers are the people still secretly buying poetry?

  4. Dawn on #

    Tomorrow I have to do some reading of Shel Silverstein’s poetry to my Children’s Lit class. Granted, its only a class of 20, its still really scary for me for some reason. I really hated my Public Speaking class, and I had to work hard to get the grade that I did. My hands always get really cold and clammy, and I ALWAYS feel like I’m going to lose any meal I’ve had all day. I hope that perhaps one day I won’t feel that way anymore and improve like you have! That would be very nice.

  5. Malcolm on #

    I’m not an author, but I am an avid enough consumer of books that I go to author readings sometimes when interesting people make the planet-wide journey out here to Sydney. I’ve seen some truly bad readings — where the author was either tired from a long book tour, or just not a good speaker and mumbled into their book whilst the audience looked for a fire escape. Most of the time, though, it’s a fun show, so I’m glad you guys (authors) submit to it. Thanks. 🙂

    Making a massive generalisation, it seems like an author will be quite relaxed when talking off the cuff, then read a small passage from their book and it starts out very stiffly. But then, after a minute, they start to get into it and loosen up and it sounds more natural and fun. So it sounds like you aren’t alone in your internal state prior to reading, Justine.

    (Now, if only you could have done this in, say, a month when I would have been in New York, I might have been able to go. 🙁 ).

  6. Maryrose Wood on #

    Justine, you were an absolutely knock-out reader by the only two measures that count, in my opinion.

    1) You got laughs.

    2) That Australian accent was UTTERLY convincing!

    fabulous job! can’t wait for the book, now,

  7. Rebecca on #

    logically, i know that practice will help. it’s the whole actually doing it thing that’s the problem. 😉

  8. Diana on #

    I’ve read once. I’m not a fan. I’ve been to two author readings in my life. One was a group reading, at which four authors read, and only one really had the audience going. He was so amazing at it, I would be embarrassed to be anywhere near him at a reading. People were lined up to get his book.

    YA authors, in particular, seem to value reading very highly. (I’ve never seen a romance author read.) I hope that’s not too important, since I don’t think I’m very good at it.

  9. Justine on #

    Letitia: I definitely think you’re on to something—narrative poetry is still popular in various forms. One of the NYT bestselling chapter books right now, Ellen Hopkins’ Impulse, is in free verse. The desire for story goes very very deep. Much of the poetry I love and read over and over like Yvette Christiansë’s Castaway or Anne Sexton’s Transformations are strongly narrative.

    Dawn: Good luck! Does it help to be reading such a marvellous poet? Or does it make it worse?

    Malcolm: I’ll be doing anothe appearance on 23 March if that helps. Though that’s not really next month, is it? Anyway you’re in Sydney we do gigs at home once or twice a year.

    Maryrose: Hah! What about you, you theatrically trained cheater you! So not fair having to follow you. People almost fell out of their chairs they were laughing so hard during your reading. I think in future you have to go last. Otherwise it’s just not fair!

    Rebecca: That there is a catch 22.

    Diana: I love hearing other people reading and I have to say overall the standard in YA is very very high.

    I definitely think it’s worth practising, Diana. When I read well, like you observed with that good reader, I sell a tonne of books. A good reading is extraordinary. The trick is to practise, read something funny, and keep it short. Like I said five minutes is perfect.

  10. Mary on #

    I was going to ask how an unpublished author could get practice, but really I already know where I need to start. Just have to do it. I am going to make a point to read to my writing group at our meeting this month. Though I get nervous enough bringing up agenda points, and these are my siblings! I’m so shy, quiet, non-confident… still hard to believe that I’m the one that started and leads the group.

    Good to know that even wonderfully talented and published authors like yourself can get terribly nervous.

  11. Justine on #

    I read out loud to Scott every second or third day or so when I’m writing a first draft. I think that’s had a part in improving my reading skills. It’s also an awesome way to hear what’s wrong with my writing and then fix it. Still, an actual audience will always be way scarier than the person you live with.

    Good luck reading to your writing group!

  12. Diana on #

    Do you really think reading aloud is important? Can I hire someone? what are your going rates?

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