Saying it Out Loud
I’ve been traveling these past few days out to Seattle and back, so this will be a short letter.
While I was out of town, I gave a reading from my new book and it kind of felt fucking great to do it. It energized me. I woke up this morning and thought: I need to work on this book. I want to have more of that feeling. Of putting my fiction out into the world. Of being heard in that way.
It was rejuvenating, even as the short turnaround flights to faraway Seattle and back sapped this middle-aged broad something fierce. But still, the public uttering of my words — new fiction at last! — made me want to dig in and get my hands dirty again.
It was not just the reading it out loud part. It was the imagining of an audience, the preparation for it, the practicing, the intense edits I gave my work up until the last second. But then to hear my words out in the world, too, as if it were somehow alive and not just in my head, or in my notebook, or on this cursed screen.
Do you ever read your work out loud to anyone? Could you read it to a friend? Could you set up a zoom reading between friends? Could you organize a salon in your living room or in a park or a backyard? Are there open mic nights available yet in your city?
We are all working with so many limitations, I know. Rules we did not create, and which are ever-changing. So if your answer to all of this is, no, I cannot, I understand. Not everyone wants to get up in front of someone else and read. That idea intimidates a lot of people, and I totally get it.
It actually used to terrify me, reading in public. I made it a New Year’s resolution many years ago to get over my fears, and I forced myself to do open mic nights in small bars on the Lower East Side until I could finally feel comfortable. My whole body used to shake: legs, backside, hands. I’m sure I looked a little ridiculous. I raced through my reading till the end. But each time it got a little better. Each time I shook a little less.
But public presentations aren’t for everyone, and again, not always possible. Maybe it’s just about showing someone — anyone, truly — your work if you’ve been afraid to in the past. Maybe it’s about constructing that audience for yourself in your head and imagining what it would feel like to have them hear your words.
When does the liftoff come where the words are not just for you but for someone else, too? And how can that line of thinking transform your work? You can write for yourself forever, and that’s fine, they’re your words! But what does contemplating an audience for a moment do to them? What happens when the work evolves to a place where it is suddenly for everyone?
Just a reminder, if you’d like to support my work with this newsletter, the best way is to buy one of my books.
If you’re in New Orleans, I’ll be onstage with my friend Zachary Lazar, celebrating his wonderful new book, The Apartment on Calle Uruguay, this Monday, April 13. If you’re in Lübeck, Hamburg, Hannover, London, or Belfast, I’m coming your way in the next few weeks. I’m on instagram, if you would like to follow along on this tour.
Wish me luck, and I’ll do the same for you.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to Backstreet Cultural Museum.