The Power of Live Literature

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of reading our work aloud.  We are lucky that here, in the Pioneer Valley, there are so many opportunities for writers to share their work.  A couple weeks ago, we had our summer open house at the Writers in Progress studio, and in preparation, writers from my Thursday Morning Jumpstart met to practice and give feedback about which pieces would be best suited to sharing with an audience.  While they were practicing their pieces, I started thinking about the ancient origins of our craft…

It’s easy to forget how stories were originally told. These days, writing seems a very isolated act–a quiet and sometimes lonely endeavor. With our computers and their blinking cursors, the bright white pages standing empty in the air before us, it’s easy to forget that all of this started as a social event.  Storytelling began with a storyteller—someone who had something to say and an urge to say it—and a few people who were eager to listen.  For the longest time, this was how stories, histories and rules for living were passed down.

Being at our incredible reading on June 14th reminded me again of how deeply powerful–almost magical–this ancient art of oral story-telling is.  Speaking our work out loud links us back to the very beginning of this craft, reinforcing why we write stories in the first place: to share, to connect, to entertain, and sometimes to survive.

There are other reasons to read our work aloud, and it doesn’t have to be in front of a crowd. For me, reading work aloud helps me to recognize trouble spots that I wouldn’t notice if I were reading silently.  A repeated or over-written phrase, a missed transition, an idea begging to be developed…  Additionally, reading aloud can illuminate things that are working in the writing–things I might not have given myself credit for.  This is a common experience in the studio: very often, when invited to read aloud, writers will begin with a disclaimer–they really don’t like this piece; they feel blocked; it’s just a bunch of crap and yada yada–and then they are surprised to discover all the elements of the piece that are powerful.  Sometimes we really just can’t hear it until we hear it.

Now that the weather is warmer and the days are longer, see if you can find time to get in touch with this oral and aural tradition. Read your work out loud when revising.  Share work with some writer friends.  Join a workshop.  Stop in at a Straw Dogs open mic night. Go to a reading.  And come join us in the studio for our next Open House on September 29th!  It’s bound to be a beautiful night.  :)

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