November 5, 2018 § 11 Comments
By Amanda Page
Four years ago, I was on the phone catching up with an old friend from graduate school. We were talking about how we weren’t as productive as we’d like, and I mentioned my aversion to finishing writing projects. I truly thought at the time that the missing piece was some combination of a lack of feedback and a lack of accountability. I wasn’t wrong, but when I asked him, “Are you in a writing group right now?” his answer surprised me.
“Hell no,” he said. “That’s not a real audience. Those are other writers trained to read work as writers. Every chance I get, I do an open mic. I read my work to the room. There might be writers in the audience, but there are other people, too.”
He listens to their reactions. He sees how they respond to his work. And he keeps going.
“I don’t really have anything ready to read on the stage,” I said.
“Ready?” he replied. “Ready? It doesn’t have to ready. You didn’t go to kindergarten and color in your finger turkey and worry if it was ready. You didn’t work for years on your finger turkey before you gave it to your parents. No! You made your finger turkey and that day you gave it to your mother and she put it on the fridge and you were proud of that finger turkey.”
“I was!” I said, joining the enthusiasm.
It took a few more years before I was ready to hand over a finger turkey, but eventually, I got on the stage. The first time, two years ago, was in front of a tiny audience.
I’m not sure why I was terrified.
I teach classes. I stand in front of students all day. But that’s with lesson material, not my creative work.
With my writing, though, I’d been hiding from an imaginary audience instead of standing up in front of a real one. I was afraid they would laugh, or criticize, of not accept my words.
What I learned is that real audiences are a lot kinder than the ones you imagine in your mind. They offer immediate feedback in their facial expressions. They understand the reason you’re standing in front of them, whether it’s to educate, entertain, or appeal. Sometimes, you’re just there to tell a story. And they are there to listen.
Here’s what I’m saying: start. Start telling your stories. Get them out there. Put your finger turkey on the fridge.
You can accumulate a lot of finger turkeys in two years.
Cover your fridge. It’s how you grow, and how you learn. It’s how you wake up one morning and realize you’re becoming an expert in something you love.
Afraid to start? What’s stopping you?
I bet it’s a story.
Amanda Page is an essayist, educator, and teller of true stories on stage. She lives with her two dogs in Columbus, Ohio. Learn more about her work at https://amanda-page.com and follow along with her adventures in nonfiction on Twitter @amandadashpage.