Dear Writers: Your Readings Suck. Here's How to Make Them Better

How we look when we read.
How we look when we read.

​If you've had any kind of experience like I've had, you know that readings in this town can occasionally be subpar. I'm sure this phenomenon isn't exclusive to Houston, but I've experienced it enough here to realize that seeing a reclusive, awkward, alcoholic writer stand up in front of a bunch of strangers for 15 minutes is painful. And sometimes stupid. And also, occasionally really bad. Really, really bad. Like, I'd rather go to a funeral bad.

For the uninitiated, reading is not the same as writing. I know! Right? It's true. And if you write anything, it's very likely at some point you'll be asked to read your writing in front of people. And here's where the problem begins. You are a writer, not a reader.​

When you write, and at least this is the case with me, you're comfortable and in your element. Mentally, you're in your study drinking cognac with a blond woman/manservant rubbing your corns. You're comfortable and in your element, about to have hot sex with a beautiful person after you recount, on paper, your amazing experiences traveling the world in search of rare jewelry and caviar.

The process of reading is a slightly different beast. You're in front of people in some awkward place. It's dark, musty and reeks of old milk. You're behind a chain-link fence, staring out at people who are drunk or on drugs or worse, on their cellphones. You're ready to run out to your Town Car and leave the godforsaken place, and let the audience get to stabbing or impregnating each other, or whatever it is they do.

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It doesn't have to be this way, though. Here are three fundamental tips to power you through your reading and get you (and all of us) back to the bar. With any luck, you'll be pushing out those extra copies of your sci-fi romance novel on the back table and making that yacht money in no time.

Tip number 1: Don't read your "best" work.

This may be a weird concept for you, but your best work on paper is not your best work for reading. The work on paper may read like butter on manservant Dan's nipples, but that chapter about buying antique rugs with grandma is probably not appropriate for a gang of stoned hipsters. Or maybe it is? Consider your audience before you consider your talent.

Tip number 2: Practice reading out loud.

As good a writer as you are, you also need to be able to sell that writing if you'd like to be successful in your lifetime. Want to not sell a book? Sound like Ben Stein on quaaludes when you read. Spend some time at home practicing your reading. It will feel weird, and you may want to cry a little, but it will help. What you are doing when you read to people is performing. Practice performing a little.

Tip number 3: Keep it short.

Listen, I know you are smart and can write a very large book. It's amazing. You're amazing. But really, people are standing up, and some of them are drunk. When they're reading your book at home, you'll keep their attention fine for nine hours. They're on a couch, in gym shorts, probably eating pretzels and waiting for sports to come back on (just me?). When you're at a reading, you have maybe seven minutes and then they're mumbling to their friends how much they want to drive over you with a monster truck.


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