Editor’s Note: I’m letting friend and fellow editor Phyl Campbell take over today’s blog to talk about open mics and why writers should utilize them for all they’re worth.
I know. I know. Most of us are introverts to a ridiculous or even painful degree. So why in the world would we ever bring our beloved manuscripts or published books to an open mic, where people can see our faces and hear our voices instead of reading our words from afar?
Yet you really don’t want to disregard what Phyl’s got to say here. It can potentially do you, your confidence levels and your story a whole lot of good.
Phyl, take it away!
Why should writers show up to open mics?
Well, some people are talkers. Some people are writers. Some people are doers. And some are all three.
I’m lucky in that most people think I was born with the gift of gab. But they don’t have to live with me.
My siblings and family will attest that I was always practicing my "gift." They rarely knew what I was going on about, but they were constantly fussing at me for talking to myself. They thought it was weird. Yet most public speakers practice in similar fashion.
Few people are born doing their thing and doing it WELL. Most have to practice, practice, practice. Those of us who are lucky may not even realize what we are doing. When it becomes second nature to write or speak or do, I hope we are in a place to appreciate it.
However, while engaging in an activity alone (like talking to oneself) may ensure that you’re working with the smartest person in the room, the feedback may be a bit biased. In communication, your message is only as good as your audience's ability to understand it, and by extension, you.
“But writers write,” you say. “They sit in little hidey holes, and books magically come out of their chimneys or something.”
Au contraire, mes amies!
(That’s French for “on the contrary, my friends.”)
Truth be told, authors are being called upon more and more frequently to speak about their writing and their characters. Many create their own YouTube videos and ads. Most spend at least some time conducting workshops, panels, or readings with book signings.
Any of these events would be a terrible time to learn that one can’t speak off the cuff.
Fortunately, here come open mics to the rescue! Sure, some members of the audience will be uninterested in your message, continuing their own conversations – which can be distracting. (Welcome to the world of teachers in their classrooms.) If you’re lucky, you’ll only see phones being held up to FB Live-broadcast your message to the attendees’ many friends and followers, instead of people playing Words With Friends or Fruit Ninja.
But even in the worst-case scenario, open mics give you the opportunity to learn whether you care if you capture the whole room's attention. Then, if you find that you do care, you get the opportunity to start learning what material to select, anecdotes to bring up, volumes to use, and other tricks of the trade that will allow you to be heard and cut through the din.
Few people get this right off the bat. In fact, most of us work our whole lives on delivering our messages.
In other words, you need to practice delivering your message. And writer-friendly open mics provide a great opportunity to do just that.
Yet what if I told you that your message is only PART of the importance of open mics?
Yes, your message is important. As a speaker, what you have to say is why you go to speak in the first place. However, the messages you receive in return may be even more important.
Do you frequently run out of ideas? The other speakers will give you plenty to work with.
Feeling undisciplined? Challenge yourself to create a backstory for each speaker. What past experiences led them to have the thoughts and opinions they share with you?
Do your details need work? Observe the audience and the space. Who commands attention? Who is ignored? Can you see it in their faces?
After listening to two or three speakers, can you tell what the audience is hungry for? How?
What does the crowd look like? Are they a posh bunch? Or an impoverished one? Are they determined or defeated, or a mix of the two? Young, old, or in between?
Is the paint peeling off the walls or can you still smell the fresh coat? And why do those things matter?
So the question for me isn't whether or not a writer should attend an open mic. My question is this: Why aren't you at one now?
To jump right in, here’s a list of open, upcoming open mic events in York County, PA:
August 10, 7-9 p.m. – GUSA by Victoria at 252 W Philadelphia St., York, PA (2nd Thursday each month), for walk-in spoken word and music performances
August 12, 12-4 p.m. – Rustic Cup Coffee Shop at 50 W. Maple Street, East Prospect, PA, for walk-in comedy, music, spoken word and magic performances, and more.
Phyl Campbell is a creative writing instructor, and creator and coordinator of the Make-a-Book classes. The author of books such as A Muse Meant and I’m Not Writing a Book Today, you can find her at www.phylcampbell.com, www.phylcampbell.blogspot.com or on Facebook to learn more about her writing – and how you can create a children’s book or chapter book yourself!