Reading Our New Work Aloud
When I first started taking workshops with Alison Hicks and the Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio, I had the same mixture of excitement and anxiety I see now in people who come to participate in mine. I sat in one night and thought to myself, “How do they do it? How do they produce well-structured, complete pieces in only a few minutes?” Nervous about others’ responses to my writing, I struggled to listen as they read aloud until I had read my own work.
A few weeks later, I made people laugh. I believe I wrote a short variation of The Frog Prince with a lot more slime and sarcasm than the original. As my confidence grew I could listen more deeply to the writers around me. I heard poetry and fiction pieces in styles I had never encountered, witty and playful tidbits, and nonfiction that moved and inspired me. Finally, truth in advertising—each person did have a unique voice. As time went by, I found myself coming out from behind the humor to write more heartfelt material, and I saw this kind of stretching happening among my peers as well.
Reading Aloud Quiets the Inner Critic
Now, as the leader of the workshops, I have an even greater appreciation for the power of reading brand new work aloud to peers. From my chair, I see each person walk in at a distinct point in their growth as writers. Many arrive with their writing as a seed of hope in their vision of the life they want to lead. They find rich soil in the supportive structure of the workshop. We provide the water and the sunshine to help them grow strong roots able to extract the nutrients they need to blossom into a multitude of flowers. Some have pages and pages already written, and like a neglected garden, they need help weeding out the overgrowth to reveal the ornately landscaped stories lying dormant underneath.
No matter where each writer is along this continuum, most writers’ internal voice tells them what they’re writing isn’t worthwhile. As writers read their new work out loud and listen to the responses of the group, they learn that all of the negative self-talk they heard while writing was unfounded; inevitably, the rest of us find so many things we liked about the work read aloud. Frequently, the person who is most reluctant to read, who might say, “Oh, it just wasn’t working tonight,” actually wrote their best piece yet, and had they not read aloud, they might have tossed aside their best work. When we go home to write on our own, we start to question that nasty internal critic and even ignore it. After eight years of leading these workshops, witnessing this process continues to be an exciting privilege.