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Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Want to be a Brilliant Writer? Attend a Reading!

Readings are inspiring in more ways than one. As writers, we often think that writing workshops and classes are the best ways to improve our writing, but we mustn’t overlook the power of listening to words, and their ability to transform us.

In my case, my first poetry reading sparked a life changing event. It was fall of 1994, and I was still at the Art Institute flailing about with my visual artwork, when one afternoon my art history teacher (and fabulous poet), Bill Berkson, mentioned a poetry reading he was participating in at the Cowell Theater. The reading was to celebrate the release of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, edited by Paul Hoover.

I had never been to a poetry reading. I figured, what the heck? I’ll check it out. I went alone and brought my notebook. I was awed by the variety, complexity, beauty, breadth, and humor of the work I heard that night. This was like no poetry I had ever read or heard. I didn’t know poetry could be funny, or visual, or rhythmic without classically rhyming.

Something clicked, something transcendent was happening inside me, and for some reason I thought, “I can do this, I want to do this, I must do this”— and by “this” I meant play with language, explore the possibilities of language and words as filtered through my own mind. From that night, I set out to become a poet.

And every reading I’ve attended since then— while not being as life altering— has made me a better writer. Here are three benefits I’ve discovered from attending readings:

Inspiration

At the first poetry reading I attended, there were a variety of readers who were characters in their own rights: Larry Eigner in his wheelchair, moaning forth his disjunctively odd and sublime poems, then being translated by Jack Foley; Alice Notley and her beautifully insistent lyrics; Ron Padgett with his dry wit and humor; Bob Grenier flipping through his scrawl poems, reading them upside-down in a high-pitched growl. All of this was truly inspiring.

The opportunities to gain insights about character development, dialogue, cadence, and more abound at readings. Attending one can pull you out of writer’s block, help you write that hook you’ve been working on, and inspire you to get more creative with your characters.

Motivation

Being a writer comes with its challenges, one of which is fear— in multiple shapes and forms. Fear is what causes us writers to back off from our writing, to distract ourselves from doing what we love most. There is fear of rejection, of failure, of being vulnerable, of sharing our personal struggles with the world.

But seeing writer after writer perform readings of their works is a useful reminder that if they can do it, you can do it, too. There is also something about seeing people achieve their goals that makes you want to achieve your own goals. So, if you’re lacking motivation, attending a reading is a great way to get reinvigorated.

Writing Skills

As many writers know, perpetual reading is an excellent method for improving your writing skills. Attending a reading has the same effect, but the author is there and available to interact with you. How many times have you read something in a book and wanted to ask the author where they came up with that idea?

Attending a reading gives you access to other writers. Sitting and listening are only part of what happens at a reading. The rest of the time is often filled with discussions about books, writing genres, and methods for improving writing skills. Plus tips and secrets about the publishing industry, if you’re lucky!

Do you have an experience or story to share? Have you ever attended a reading that’s changed your life? What other benefits from attending a reading can you think of? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts!

Reach out to me through email, Facebook, or Twitter and let’s chat!

"Memoir" as opposed to "My Memoirs"

“Memoir” as opposed to “My Memoirs”

The most common reply I get from people when I tell them I’ve published a memoir is “aren’t you a bit young to be writing your memoirs?” At which point I have to explain, “no, no, a memoir, singular, I’ve written a memoir. I’m not in my sunset years writing the autobiography of my entire life, known as one’s memoirs (plural).” A memoir covers a section of a life. It could be about the last three weeks of your best friend life, or the ten years it took you to get off prescription pills.

My favorite example is Robin Romm’s book “The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks,” which is a beautiful and emotional chronicle of the last weeks of her mother’s life as she watched her die of cancer. The opening description of the hospice nurse is exquisite and one of my favorite book openings, period. It’s hard not to notice  how Mary Karr’s memoirs are pretty much broken up into, childhood (The Liar’s Club), adolescence, high school, and early college (Cherry), and young and mid adulthood (Lit).

This is not to say one can’t move through time chronologically, or for that matter experimentally, in a memoir. One of the great defining characteristics of contemporary memoir is the unique play of time using flashback, dream sequence, and future projecting–my favorite example being “Boys of my Youth” by Joanne Beard. But what we aren’t doing is chronologically recalling an entire life (I did this, and then I did this, and finally here I am old and wise.)

Memoir as a genre has very much come into its own over the past twenty years and is now filled with a vast array of narrative exploration of the true (as true as memory can be) personal account. One of the latest incarnations is the “Immersion Memoir” where people are seeking out interesting, challenging, odd, or even dangerous experiences, completely immersing themselves in them, and then writing about it. “My Year Living as a Buddhist Nun in Burma” or “My Time Working for Minimum Wage in a Slaughterhouse in Iowa,” might be examples. I suppose if “Supersize Me” was a book it could be considered an “Immersion Memoir.”

Such books include elements of travelogue, documentary script, and deep investigative journalism. The point being that at it’s best memoir (singular) explores a portion of a life lived in a unique open way, filled with adventurous experiences, transformation, lessons learned, a solid story structure, and prose that shimmers off the page as lusciously as any novel, and as poetically as any great poem.

For more writing tips, check out the upcoming online course Brilliant Writer: The Master Class for Successful Writers

Who needs a writing coach?

Who needs a writing coach? How about everybody. Though some people might call them an editor, some of the best editors are really coaches–and many will resist the idea that they need one at all. But who among the most successful writers has not had a mentor, supportive professor, brilliant editor, that was really disguised as a coach? Call them what you may (I prefer coach)–I think of them as a necessary element of any successful writers career.

I know I would never have gotten my books completed and published without the support of a writing coach. The best coaches act as advocate, inspiration, guide, motivator, cheerleader, accountability partner, confidante, and ass-kicker. They are there to see you through the grim sticky waves of doubt, the debilitating blocks, the blinding seizures brought on by staring too long at the tundra of the blank page. They help carry you through to success, whatever that might mean for you!