How not to bore your audience at a reading, Viet Thanh Nguyen

“Am I the only one who finds literary readings boring? I usually avoided them. Then I had to go on book tour and tried not to bore people. I learned to think of myself as a performer rather than a reader.”

Here are some tips for writers who have to speak in front of audiences:

1. Do not be defensive and think that you are a writer and that writing is different from performing. I have seen poets who say that the words on the page are what matter and therefore they will read them with minimal interpretation. I invite them to do so in the privacy of their own rooms, because listening to them in public was painful (for me). …

2. Perform from a script rather than just read your book. I also like to blow up my font to 16- or 18-point size to make the text easier to see.

3. Make eye contact with your audience. Not just once or twice. Regularly. This will help keep the audience involved.

4. Do not just read 20- to 40-minutes straight while never looking up from your book and speaking in a soft monotone. PLEASE.

5. Consider reading just short excerpts and insert them into a story you are telling or a talk about some larger issue. Imagine what the larger story or talk is about

6. 
If you’re lucky enough to get an auditorium, dim the lights to get your audience in the mood for a performance. 

8.
Dress up, whatever that means to you.
 A vintage outfit, a motorcycle jacket, a cowboy hat. T.C. Boyle looks like a punk rock statesman.

9.
Consider visual aids
. T.C. Boyle has the advantage of actual movies made from his work that he can show. For my initial tour of The Sympathizer, I had a friend make a three-minute highlight reel from American movies of the war in Viet Nam.

10.
If you just cannot perform, consider having someone interview you
.

11.
Writing programs should teach their students how to perform.
 Just a one-unit course. 

12.
Last, bring energy to the room.
 Your energy level will be the room’s energy level, which comedians understand

Full details in his article at Lithub here.

See some Zadie Smith writing tips here.

Philip Roth on writing

If you write every day, eventually you’ll have a book.

I can’t explain the fact that there have been a series of books coming rather regularly out of me. I work most days and if you work most days and you get at least a page done a day, then at the end of the year you have 365.

-from a 2009 interview with Tina Brown for The Daily Beast

Learn to edit yourself.

Part of being a writer is being able to read what you’ve written and see what’s missing, see what needs development, see what’s suggested by what you wrote. It’s like a trampoline. You know, you’re jumping up and down on this draft, and each jump is an idea.

-from an interview with Robert Siegel at NPR

Write towards what works for the story (or for you).

You go with what’s alive. Two thousand pages of narrative and six lines of dialogue may be just the ticket for one writer, and two thousand pages of dialogue and six lines of narrative the solution for another.

-in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review

Work sentence by sentence.

Solving the problem of the book you’re writing always remains hard work, and your progress is snail-like. Even if you write a book in two years, sometimes you get a page a day, sometimes you get no pages … every sentence raises a problem, and essentially what you’re doing is connecting one sentence to the next. And you write a sentence and you have to figure out what comes next or what doesn’t come next.

-from a 2013 interview with NPR

World echoing language and lacuna choices

Four observations on the power of language and lacuna.

Language can take us out of context. But, language and artistic choices will and should always reflect the wider world, when made public.

The choice to use a puppet to portray a severely autistic boy in a recent play in London has had much criticism from the wider world outside the play.*The creative decision is mediocre, but beyond that the social political world beyond the play cannot be ignored. We live in a world of metaphor and symbols.

The decision for a German CEO to use words that echo the phrase that appears on the entrance of Nazi Auschwitz, even if accidental shows a lack of judgment for the reflection it would bring to the wider  Germanic world.

The casting of a queer-phobic actor into a leading bisexual role (the Color Purple) has echoed angrily and awkwardly with queer audiences and creatives.

On the flip side, the New Zealand Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern has evoked  “Damnatio memoriae”. In Roman times the state condemned the memory of a person and erased their name from history, it’s been done within many civilizations.

"I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless."

She’s condemned the recent terrorist to no name, such that their cause and “fame” fail.

Our words and actions echo like small and major myths. If you will speak to the wider world, the world will judge what words and actions you use.

*

https://www.thendobetter.com/arts/2019/3/6/autism-stories-representation-and-all-in-a-row-review

CEO blunder:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47566898

UK casting of Color Purple

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/color-purple-gets-play-gay/

No name to the terrorist.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-47620630

What’s a performance lecture?

It’s a form of anti-TED talk.

Existing since the 1960s as a subgenre of performance, the lecture-performance or performance-lecture has its roots in the performance and conceptual art of the 1960s, and balances on the boundary between art and academia.

It’s a type of presentation that goes beyond the academic format of the lecture. Artists (not only visual or performance) use the lecture to turn it into a performance space which fuses aspects of drama and of visual and other media disciplines.


It’s hybrid nature then often expresses in borrowed hybrid elements such as storytelling, the mass media, internet, adverts, slogans, images, and technology.

The performance lecture at its best has varied functions and elements operating on multiple levels. These can form a visual rhetoric or performative actions and artistic non-sequiturs  Techniques of advertising and propaganda or more straight forward education lectures and slides are used to explore the relationship between the image and the text or between consensus and the facts, or contrasting ideas or narratives.

In its artistic investigations the relationship of perception and of understanding, the audience and the performer and performance ideas can all come under scrutiny.

In that sense it is nothing like a Ted talk. It’s almost an anti-Ted Talk.

A TED talk gives you an idea and a smooth talker and tells you it’s the truth.

A performance-lecture gives you a part-idea that you have to complete, challenges you to assess its truth, your truth and the performers truth and like all good theatre can leave you activated and different from when you started.


Radio Drama Fund | Audible $5m

Funding for radio drama

Audible has announced the establishment of fund up to $5 million ("Theater Fund") dedicated to the commission and development of innovative English-language works from playwrights around the globe. The fund will support the creation of one- and two-person audio plays driven by language and voice, in keeping with Audible’s core commitment to elevating listening experiences through powerful performances of brilliantly composed words.

Me: I think radio drama can be a very powerful form. (I have 2 radio plays which went on BBC Radio, BBC World Service). Radio drama output is down over the last few years (as BBC was the main funder) although podcasts are up, I think this project could yield some interesting work for audible. There’s some intereting work potentially coming out.

Plus, writers, it’s another possible gig!

https://www.audible.com/ep/audible-theater


Creativity: be a slow-motion multi-tasker

Tim Harford: “"Different researchers, using different methods to study different highly creative people have found that very often they have multiple projects in progress at the same time, and they're also far more likely than most of us to have serious hobbies. Slow-motion multitasking among creative people is ubiquitous."


“...Slow-motion multitasking feels like a counterintuitive idea. What I'm describing here is having multiple projects on the go at the same time, and you move backwards and forwards between topics as the mood takes you, or as the situation demands. But the reason it seems counterintuitive is because we're used to lapsing into multitasking out of desperation. We're in a hurry, we want to do everything at once. If we were willing to slow multitasking down, we might find that it works quite brilliantly.”


Harford has a new Ted Talk address creativity. Harford’s recent FT article has already persuaded me to delete a few social media apps and partially take back control.


His arguments on creativity I find persuasive - because I essentially practise what he advises. I have multiple projects slowly on the go (short summary on 2019 in below picture) and they range across arts, investing and connecting. I have serious hobbies as well.


It is not multi-tasking in the sense of trying to - in the moment - do more than one thing, but it is switching between many projects over time. It also ties into my thoughts on breaking or working across silos of expertise.


Transcripts here:

https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_harford_a_powerful_way_to_unleash_your_natural_creativity/transcript?language=en


He also references Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I have blogged about him before when speaking about Flow (and why you should turn email off and not check email so much as it breaks flow.


My blog on email management and why it’s important not to break Flow.

https://www.thendobetter.com/investing/2017/10/25/organising-email-my-system


Why breaking silos is a good idea

https://www.thendobetter.com/investing/2018/8/1/breaking-silos


References:

Three examples of this research. First: Howard Gruber and Sara Davis emphasize how often highly creative artists and scientists maintain a "network of enterprises" -- different projects at different stages of maturity. Their examples include the novelist Dorothy Richardson and the scientist Charles Darwin.

Howard E. Gruber and Sara N. Davis. "Inching Our Way Up Mount Olympus: The Evolving-Systems Approach to Creative Thinking". The Nature of Creativity, 1995

R. Keith Sawyer. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, pp. 75-76 and 376, 2012

Second: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his research assistants interviewed around a hundred highly creative people, including astronomer Vera Rubin, jazz legend Oscar Peterson and the activist and Nobel laureate for Literature, Nadine Gordimer. Among many tendencies discussed is the habit of keeping multiple projects going on simultaneously, letting some simmer on the back burner while others take priority. One of Csikszentmihalyi's research assistants, Keith Sawyer -- now a respected creativity researcher in his own right -- drew this to my attention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 2013

Third: Leading scientists are vastly more likely to have serious hobbies.

Root-Bernstein, R., Allen, L., et al. "Arts foster scientific success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi members". Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, 2008