“This is the prologue to my book-length memoir tentatively titled Gretchen’s Journals: A Memoir about Honesty, Goodness and Lies.” I cleared my throat, tucked a stray hair behind my ear, took a deep breath then plunged. “I am a good girl. Let me explain…”
Two weeks ago, I participated in a Reading at WriterHouse in Charlottesville, Virginia. Each of the twelve readers had seven minutes to share their writing: poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. I read a draft of the prologue to a memoir about my quest to discover what happened to my stepdaughter who died several months before I met her father.
In A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism and Travel, Robin Hemley mused about the three processes that happen simultaneously during writing: figuring out your past and present self, observing your subject or topic and crafting your writing for your audience. Plumbing the depths of your self is an internal process; subject and audience involve externals. All writing is in some ways nonfiction and immersive, Hemley stated, because we bring ourselves to every endeavor.
When I write, I immerse myself in silence. I don’t even wiggle very much. But before I post a blog or give a piece to my beta readers – my husband and writing groups – I always read what I’ve written aloud. Invariably, I discover errors and make further edits to smooth out the prose. Writing sounds different when spoken, especially when performed live.
“Phrasing that looks artful on the page can sound pretentious and off-putting in person,” wrote Graham Shelby in “What was my first line again?” published in Creative Nonfiction, Summer 2014. “It turns out that to be emotionally present on stage, you have to know what your emotions are, and you have to own them… It’s a good test for a creative nonfiction writer – really, probably for any writer.”
When I read for an audience, I take out the taglines – he said, she said, I said and other clarifiers – and dramatize instead of reading them. I perform the text like a play in rehearsal. Speaking dialogue, I try to capture the different voices so the audience “gets” the characters.
“Live storytelling never lets you forget about the audience,” Graham Shelby stated. It’s daunting to close the distance between you the writer working in solitude and you the reader standing live in front of an audience. All eyes look at you; ears listen, hoping to hear a good story.
As Paula Carter wrote in her article “Tell Me a Story: Is This the Golden Age of Live Storytelling?” published in the same issue of Creative Nonfiction, “…live stories reveal the truths of who we are. They air the unspoken, make fun of idiosyncrasies, and demonstrate our common humanity… Spectators fail and fall in love and overcome obstacles along with the storytellers. We see ourselves in the stories. We’ve been there.”
If you do it well, reading your writing reveals an authentic you and a real story. People in the audience nod their heads in shared recognition. Yes, we’ve been there.
When did you last read or hear a story and nod your head in recognition?