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Reading Aloud

This week, we spent almost all of the 4.5 hours of my Tuesday night class sharing our writing. It always amazes me how much unspoken feedback you can get just from noticing the atmosphere in the room when your work is being read out loud.

If the story is working, the silence in the room is palpable. There's a stillness; an intensity, and you can almost feel people listening closely. When it's not working, people fidget. They discreetly check their watches. They stifle yawns. Even though we're all polite to one another, the body signals don't lie.

The program at Columbia does not run a traditional workshop where your work is read in advance by your classmates and then critiqued. We don't even have copies of student work in front of us when we listen to it, so most of the time when your work is read aloud, people are hearing it for the first time. And first impressions are often dead-on.

It's always interesting to see what those first impressions reveal. Sometimes people will laugh at parts that you didn't intend to be funny (which can be a good thing), and sometimes they won't laugh at parts that you did (which can't). Sometimes they'll pick up on things you didn't even realize you were doing, and other times they'll miss things you thought you'd made clear.

It took me a long time to become comfortable with hearing my work read aloud and then discussed, but now I find it invaluable. The feedback I get in class, both spoken and unspoken, can reveal more to me about a story than I'd ever be able to figure out on my own.

If you're in an MFA or writing group, I'm curious as to what kinds of workshop methods you've used. How does workshopping affect your revision process?

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