Tonight marks my final public speaking performance, at least for now. Last Thursday, I got to the library not knowing what to expect. My life is pretty full, so I didn’t have time to go in and check out my speaker’s space early. I know what my library looks like. It’s spacious and gorgeous and only a few years old. There are several meeting rooms and I figured I’d have one of the smaller ones.
Instead the director, a very nice young woman named Jamie, took me into the auditorium. There were a lot of chairs set out in front of a slightly raised stage, a podium off to the left, and a huge screen behind that. I had not brought anything for the screen, since I’d imagined being in one of the little rooms with a conference table and chairs. All the accoutrements for a Power Point or video presentation: laptop, hand-held controller, laser pointer, were at the podium.
Since it was only the two of us in the room, I joked to the director that it might be a small crowd. She said they’d had 28 people sign up, which is just about my normal class size, so I relaxed a little to hear that. I’m not sure if I was nervous that nobody would come or that too many people would show up, but neither of those things happened.
It was a nice crowd. They listened attentively while I talked about finding subjects for writing from your life. I used a lot of examples from my own life, including my single mom Cup of Comfort piece, my creative writing text, and several others. I showed how the events that sparked the work was all stuff that happened to me that sort of organically made itself into story.
I talked about ways my current novel-in-progress has pieces of my own life in it in the form of two characters who carry unusual but interesting traits of relatives: my aunt who ran away to join the circus and my great-grandmother the fotune teller, rumored to have Gypsy blood.
I had the audience write to some directed questions about their own lives, probing for events that might make good story fodder, for about 20 minutes, in five minute bursts. I loved looking out at the crowd and watching everyone writing furiously. Make me smile. Plus I got to rest my voice.
I really had no idea who would show up to this event, or at what level they’d be. The library description that went out in the community newsletter said something about “getting started writing” so I didn’t want to speak too much to craft or revision. I was more about finding ideas and getting first drafts down on paper.
Near the end of the session, I took questions for about 15 minutes, though, and people asked really good questions. Writing is about the only subject about which I feel like I have most of the answers, so those Q & A parts of my talks are always fun to do.
I tried to make the presentation upbeat and informative. People laughed at my jokes, so I think it went okay. It helped that I felt relaxed and had fun on stage. Writing is a subject I’ve spent a lifetime learning, after all, so I am pretty confident when I speak about it. Especially to people who actually want to be there and were not forced to come so they could stay on their parents’ insurance policy (one of the things my more reluctant scholars often confess as being the only reason they are in school).
And for the cherry on top of the sundae, I sold out of books afterward! Okay, I only brought a dozen, but some people wanted them after I’d sold out and said they’d wait until tonight. I’ll bring a bigger box this time;-)
Tonight I’m doing a Power Point slide show. The topic is “publishing” and I’m covering everything from commercial publishing to self-publishing to breaking into print via literary and popular magazines. I have a script all written out, although I have taught this so often in classes that I should be able to riff on my bullet points without even looking at it. I hardly glanced at my script last week, and I didn’t even have an screen to keep me on track.
If you live in the area, and want to learn more about how to pursue publication, come on down to the Clinton-Macomb Public Library at 7 p.m. for an hour or so. Unless you’re a current creative writing student, because I’ll be doing a similar lecture, plus the shiny new Power Point presentation, in class closer to the end of the semester.