Writing Showcase: what I did and what I learned

For those of you who haven’t been following my blog, I was invited to read some of my work at the Utah Valley University Writing Showcase.

As a recent graduate from UVU, I felt honored to be invited back by some of my professors to read some of my work. The event was small and informal, and the acclaim is more of a personal morale boost than a resume builder. Still, I have never been asked to read my writing before, so I found the whole experience thrilling.

What did I do?

It’s all pretty simple and straight forward. I was invited to read last month. I told them what piece I would be reading and sent them a quick bio, and that was it. There was no editing, no rehearsals, and no outline of the event.

Earlier this week we were asked to confirm that we were still attending. The day of I showed up at UVU’s library, made my way to the auditorium on the first floor, and was told what order we were presenting in. We were supposed to start at 12:00 pm, but actually started at 12:10 pm as is standard in Utah. Honestly the whole thing was as informal and laid back as any college class I’ve taken.

I was speaker #4 of 7. Being right in the middle.

I liked that I was in the middle of it all because it meant that I would have a chance to watch a few people present, but not have too much time to build up my own anxiety. The crowd wasn’t large, and I was familiar with some of the other readers, so I wasn’t really concerned about faking myself out with nerves. What I didn’t expect to happen was that I would end up being the tonal misfit. Everyone decided to read pieces about loss and death expect for me and the final reader who shared a fantasy piece.

Honestly, everything went smoothly, and I’m glad I decided to go with something light and fun instead of heavy and cliche (no offense to the other writers). I read my piece, got a few polite laughs to lift the gloom of the room, and was able to enjoy the rest of the showcase. Afterward we got some refreshments and a $25 to the UVU bookstore. It was a rather pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

What I learned.

As casual as this whole thing was, I did actually learn a lot from the whole thing. The make things easier, I’m making a list.

  1. If you are heading a showcase, screen the writing.

None of the writing shared was bad, and all of the presenters did a good job. The problem was the tone. There was 1 hour of death and grieving punctuated by my story about stealing a Christmas tree, and rounded off with a cute story about a magician in-training, a little kid, and a dragon. The whole thing ended up feeling off-balance. To create an experience that is enjoyable as well as educational either create a unified theme and tone to unify the content, or make sure there is enough variety to create a bouquet of great work. Curation and organization are important parts of art: ask any art gallery manager or magazine editor.

2. No matter how much you edit, you will never feel done.

Editing is not one of my strengths, so this could just be me, but while preparing for this event I noticed that I never felt completely done with revisions. I have gone over the piece I read 100 times  and find something to change every time I read it. Even while up on the stage in front of an audience I was still finding little tweaks to make to my “final” version. I made the edits later that day, but I’m sure if I were to read it again I would still find problems. I went into more detail about this in my last blog, but basically editing is never truly complete.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice.

If you are reading a piece of your work in-front of an audience you need to rehearse it at home. You may know each line by heart, and you know how you want it to sound in your head, but it is not going to come out that way on stage your first time around. Words don’t read the same way aloud as they do in our heads, and we have a tendency of rushing when we are nervous. If you really want your piece to come out right you need to practice. Rehearse to alone or with a friend. Film yourself on your phone if you can. Figure out your timing, your facial expression, the emphasis, and pauses during the practice sessions so you can sound natural and “real” in front of your audience.

4. Share something unique- don’t default to death.

I’m not being cruel, just honest. The first piece about loss was touching. The second piece was insightful, but by the 4th the topic was becoming predictable and cliche. Most writers get their start by trying sharing their most painful experiences. Truly amazing masterpieces are written about these topics, but because these experiences are not unique, and the resulting is often unoriginal. Share the pain where it is appropriate, but when you are invited to share your work with an audience they want to see what makes you different. Show them pieces that make you stand out as a person and as a writer. Share the work that only you can do! You don’t have to make it sad to be deep, and you don’t have to be deep in order to artistic or personal. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write about the bad stuff, but don’t limit yourself to it. The tortured artist is a limiting myth that tells people that only the dark, depressing, and miserable can be considered art. It’s not true: art is whatever you make it.

5. If you bring a camera, people love you.

I asked my friend Mark to film the event so I could see how I did and how I could improve. Even if I am never asked to speak again, I want to work on my presentation skills for my own benefit. It turns out, some of the other readers felt that way as well, but didn’t think to ask someone to record. My friend Mark owns a camera and lighting rental company, so he ended up bringing professional gear to over-deliver on a simple request (I honestly just expected him to use his phone). Now the English Department at UVU is happy for my “pro-activeness” in recording this event for educational purposes, and the other readers are happy that they will have a solid record to remember the showcase by. It kind of feels like being the person in school who creates the Google Doc study-guide to share with the whole class: no one asked for it, but everyone is glad you did it anyway.

Wrapping it Up:

I’m glad I took a few hours out of my day to stop by my alma marter and participate in this small event. The honor was flattering, the experience was educational, and the afternoon was fun. I hope that I can do this again in the future, and I plan to use the things I learned to grow as a writer and a presenter. If nothing else, I got to do something I have never done before, and isn’t that what counts?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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