When the writing self and the performing self meet….

(photo by Ellen Montelius)

I was lucky enough to spend the whole of last weekend learning new ways to perform my own work.

I don’t think there was one hour over the weekend when I wasn’t taken completely out of my comfort zone, but that was a good thing. The weekend was organised by the brilliant Re-Authoring project, and couldn’t have been facilitated better than by Sam, Greg and Katherine, who between them allowed all six of us writers present to take the risks we needed to take in order to see other ways of interacting with an audience.

For me, the most important lesson in the weekend was to revisit the connection between writing and performing. And to realise how much I have tended in the past to keep them in completely different boxes.

As the writing Sarah (the one on the ground in the photo above), I have a private relationship with the page. I know that a large part of my writing practice is to write as if no one is going to read it, so I can be as brave and risk-taking as possible. For this reason, I hate showing people work at early stages, and have only just learnt to be thankful – rather than fearful – when people tell me they are reading my published work. (And I AM thankful, very much so.)

But, given this, it’s perhaps not surprising that performing (or reading) my work can felt a bit threatening. However this was also one reason why I was so keen to attend the weekend and learn more about the performing side. It’s a strange thing that as writers, we spend a lot of time learning the craft and heart of writing but nothing about what happens after it’s published. Times might have changed but there was NOTHING on my MA about reading it out in public. And as anyone who attends a literary festival knows, good writers are not always the best readers of their own work.

What a waste.

So what did I learn:

* That we can lose out by being too committed to our text. By this I mean that – given there is a difference between the private relationship the reader has with a book AND the more public situation of a writer and an audience – we have the opportunity to offer something new with a performance. And if our live reading doesn’t add to the experience a reader might have on the page, we might be missing a trick. This means getting back to the heart of our work, whether it is a novel or a poem, and really trying to get this across. What do we want our listeners to feel?

* That writers don’t have to suddenly transform into actors when reading our own work. This was a huge relief to me, but interesting to realise how much of a nagging worry it had been. I just have to be myself. (Admittedly harder that it sounds.)

* The ‘not being an actor’ bit means that just as I talk directly to the page in my head when I’m writing, so I can with an audience. I want to be able to be truthful in the same way and hopefully have my audience feel we are in some kind of conversation rather than having me declaiming down at them, sometimes at speed and shaking with nerves.

* That we can take control of and use the space provided in unusual ways, and don’t have to be rooted in just the one spot, whether that’s by fear or inertia.

* That – and this is the big one for me – it’s fun! For both the writer and the listener. I LOVED being part of my fellow participants’ performances, and enjoyed the creative part of working out my own. I think each of us inspired and encouraged the others to go a bit further than we might have otherwise.

Here are some different ways of getting across our message that we looked at over the weekend…

Jonathan’s wholehearted involvement:

Rotozaza’s wonderfully intimate Etiquette performance: here.

Katherine May’s creative exploration of her own novel, Burning Out. You can listen to some of the performance, and the process involved in creating it here.

I left buzzing with so many ideas of what I didn’t even know was possible, the tools to try to put these ideas into place, and some new friends. (Plus some bruises, but hey, we have to suffer for our art!)

You can find out more about Re-authoring and the principles behind it here and on the Nimble Fish website, which is full of good creative inspiration. If you get the chance to do something similar, grab it and don’t let it go...

One Response to When the writing self and the performing self meet….

  1. Hi Sarah, so glad to hear you’ve been enjoying some of the reauthoring magic. I worked with them twice last year. Like you, I was taken soooo far outside my comfort zone. But it was a brilliant experience.


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When the writing self and the performing self meet….