The Terror of Reading Out Loud

tricia reading
Killin’ it at Astoria Bookshop in Queens, New York.

My hands shook and my palms dampened the pages of paper I held.

I was about to read my writing in front of more than 30 people. I’d never read anything I’d written out loud. I looked out at the audience and saw friends, roommates, coworkers—even my mom.

I hoped my voice wouldn’t shake as much as my hands.

One of the members of my writing group came to us a few meetings ago and asked if we would want to do a reading at Astoria Bookshop.

She had called the owner to see if the four of us could do a reading. We’re not published authors (yet). We’d never even done a reading before. It was a shocking reminder that you can basically do anything to achieve your dreams—all you have to do is ask.

A week before, we had a meeting and decided to read for 7-8 minutes each. We organized who would bring the brownies and wine. We read our pieces out loud for each other and decided the most effective places to stop. I felt like an excited little schoolgirl again as I practiced reading my piece out loud in my room a couple times every night that week.

The night started perfectly. I easily found my way to the bookstore in an area of Queens that I’d never been to before. I was going last, so I happily sat and listened to my fellow reading group members read. But when the person before me started reading, anxiety shot through my system. I suddenly had to pee like crazy and my stomach felt like it was getting wrung out like a mop. My mouth was dry and my thoughts were oscillating between panic and calm every two seconds.

When it was finally my turn, I got up and stood in front of the room.

I didn’t actually see any bodies, just a mass of people in front of me. I didn’t focus in on anyone in particular. I was also recovering from a cold and couldn’t seem to get a knot of phlegm cleared from my throat. But when I started reading, the words came easily. I was able to look up at the audience frequently, and reminded myself not to stand too rigid. When I finished, I looked out over the crowd and saw people I cared about smiling and clapping. I was so happy they were able to finally hear the writing I’d talked so much about, but never had the courage to share.

After the reading, a few people even gave me feedback. One of the men’s dialogue lines sounded a little girlish, my friend’s mom told me. The main character’s job as an editorial assistant wasn’t described properly, a publishing friend told me. I knew that they were both right, but I never would have noticed these things on my own.

My writing group agreed that the night was a huge success and a big growing experience. I would never have thought a bookstore would want four people who hadn’t yet been published to host a reading. But the owner was interested and gracious and I could tell she truly cared about books and her community.

She kept the store open late just for us. It was an amazing and innovative way for us to get our names out there. And what a way to overcome the perpetual self-consciousness that comes with writing and sharing, much less the terror of reading out loud. I can’t wait to do it again.

Photo courtesy of Tracy Raymond.

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