By Laura Mahal
Originally posted December 11 , 2019
For many of us, reading in public can trigger a case of the nerves. Our hands shake, our voice wavers, and we may not be able to make eye contact with the audience. But when we hear that applause or finger snaps of approval, we know we have done something momentous—we’ve grown as writers.
Feels like the First Time
Wolverine Farm Letterpress & Public House offers live mike events for writers and poets to share their work. Last month was Kaitlyn Garza’s first time reading before an audience.
Kaitlyn said, “I definitely was thinking about it for the entire time I was here, debating . . . I have really bad anxiety, so it was definitely nerve-wracking. But lately, I’ve been trying to do more in life. So, I decided to just push myself, and I raised my hand and immediately regretted it, but there was no going back.”
The audience loved Kaitlyn’s poem, and the emcee asked her to read it a second time. Kaitlyn added: “I think what made me decide to do it here was I could just tell the energy in here was a safe space to [read].”
Heal and Be Heard
I asked Ryan Lanham, who runs a writing group for veterans, what encouragement he would offer those who are new to sharing their work.
“I would tell them just to give it a shot. I come from a place where I was never a writer, so I get it. I can have that conversation with them.
The thing that really stands out to me is our Vietnam era vets that come in. Most of them were silenced the moment they got off the plane . . . They stuffed these stories, some of them for fifty years . . . For some, just the act of writing is the first time they’ve purged this stuff and had any kind of catharsis.
And then sharing it in our writing group, sometimes that’s the first time anybody has ever witnessed their story.”
Kelly Sabota O’Donnell, the author of The Hidden Sword, has numerous readings under her belt. Kelly said, “Each time I do a reading, I actually learn from that, and I can refine what I’m trying to project out . . . I’m learning from other people when I’m here, too.”
When I confessed I hadn’t intended to read but decided to go for it, Lanham offered me powerful encouragement. “See! That’s an act of courage. And each time we do that we can inspire courage too.”
The more a person practices reading in public, the fewer nerves tend to affect them. Lanham now prefers to use his phone, instead of paper, because the audience can see the paper shaking.
“What’s nice about these events is no one person is on the mike for too long. Even if I get up and read a piece that’s really dark and true to my experience, there’s always another person that will come up and change the channel a bit.”
In upcoming months, our Rise contributors will be presented with opportunities to read their work out loud. We hope you will dig deep, summon courage, combat your nerves, and step up to the mike. We’ll cheer you on.