As children, there was a time before any of us could read. This is a fact (no matter what Baby Einstein paid programming may insinuate), and therefore, most of our first interactions with books were from them being read to us. However, as we mature, this habit—no, art—is often ignored and undervalued. Once we learn to read for ourselves and eventually write our own words, we assume the time for reading aloud has passed. I think this does our own writing a great disservice, though.
After writing a story, authors will sometimes feel themselves invested in the writing in a way that becomes almost an unhealthy envelopment in the trenches of the words, so engrossed, that we forget how the rest of the world experiences these words. Attending a reading and performing a reading can enhance your own writing and make you aware of things you aren’t able to see on the page. When you speak your writing, you immediately hear the way that it sounds more human or more robotic. You suddenly hear your narrator’s voice in a new way, or how dialogue between two characters borders on flat.
You also see the way that your audience interacts with the writing. The relationship with a writer and a reader is one of the most fundamental necessities for success, and by having an audience that is captive for your work, you can visibly encounter the way that you either reach your audience, or the way that you need to enhance their experience.
Because the written word is where the author finds himself of herself most invested, writers also tend to forget about the rest of the world. We become invested in the characters we create, or the ones that we find on someone else’s pages. However, there is a real world of real people out there—and reading to an audience forces us to acknowledge that fact. It pushes us out of our comfort zones and through our social awkwardness, into the interactive world.
As a community of writers, we should also be devoted to supporting our peers. This is almost as important as perfecting on craft, in a selfish way. Attend readings so that you can see what others are doing with the common craft that you practice. Author Kyle Beachy has said, “The importance of learning how to get the most out of any conversation that isn’t about you cannot be overstated—because most conversations aren’t about you.” That concept applies to readings, as well. Watch other readers in the city read so that you can hone your own work and your own reading voice. Chicago has readings, most of them free, almost every night. Find these events publicized in magazines, on websites, or by word of mouth. In a city full of talented artists, it isn’t difficult to find an interesting reading in your neighborhood.
Since I’ve convinced you of the merits of reading your work and seeing other’s read, keep your ears and eyes open, and please let us know when you are doing a reading, it would be a disservice to our art if we did not try to attend!
Cassandra Morrison is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 42 of Oyez Review.