writing December 17, 2009

I’m reading this Sunday at the Clamourous Sundays series at The Green Room. I received an unexpectedly generous offer from the organizer in terms of reading time: up to twenty minutes. Talk about temptation! Give a writer ten minutes, and a lot of the time you’ll get a fifteen minute reading. We love to go over time. Because we love to hear ourselves read. Too much.

Back in the Grimy Windows days, when I was co-hosting a monthly series, I learned this the hard way. In the beginning, we’d give readers ten minutes. After a few months of watching what were supposed to be ten-minute spots turn into thirteen, fourteen, twenty(!)-minute marathons, we switched to seven minutes, hoping this would get us closer to the ten-minute mark we wanted.

When a writer reads too long, the room gets uncomfortable and the audience tunes out. Comedy clubs of course employ a light bulb that faces the stage, the performer, to flash on and off, letting the comedians know when they’ve gone over their time. It’s subtle, and not always noticeable to the audience. It’s always a terribly awkward moment when a reading host has to interrupt a writer who’s gone on too long. At his events, Barry Callaghan takes care of transgressors with a short, loud, and extremely effective “STOP!” This makes for great incentive to stay under time.

I think ten minutes is the magic number. After that point, the reading is no longer for the audience, it’s for one person and one person alone: the writer. Readings are our chance to show off our stuff, and the temptation is great to show off a lot of it. But what good does it do if nobody’s listening?

Now let’s just see if I can resist temptation on Sunday and follow my own good advice.

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