Athens, Georgia, Editors, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing

What in the World is a “Read-In?”

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“What’s a “Read-In?”

Newcomers to our monthly Athens Writers Association social gatherings often ask this question when our president and founder, Katherine Cerulean, mentions that I host monthly “Read-Ins” at Barnes and Noble Cafe in Athens, Georgia.

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Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Athens, GA. Home of the “Read-Ins” Image courtesy of Facebook

Katherine asked me to write a guest blog post for the Athens Writers Association website – feel free to contact me if you live in the NE Georgia area and are interested in experiencing a “Read-In” with us. 

“Read-In” is a term that I coined in October 2015, as a spin-off to the “Write-Ins” that Katherine started with the AWA from the beginning.

(Katherine currently hosts a weekly “Wild Wednesday Write-In at Jittery Joe’s on Epps Bridge Parkway from 2-4 pm every week for those of you who, like me, thrive on writing with other authors. Let’s be honest – there’s power – and inspiration – in working together).

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Jittery Joe’s Epps Bridge Parkway, Image courtesy of Facebook page

Back in the “old days” (circa 2013-2014), the Athens Writers Association held our meetings, events, and most of our public readings at The Coffee Shop of Athens (sadly, they closed for business in November 2014). It was the perfect venue for “write-ins,” our workshops (they had a private meeting room upstairs), critique groups, guest speakers (e.g. Philip Lee Williams, Bobby Nash, Lacey Wolfe, and other local authors), and best of all, performing public readings in front of a live audience.

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Jill Hartmann-Roberts at the AWA public reading, “Writers Read II” at Coffee Shop of Athens on February 1, 2014

(We also performed in a few other Athens venues in 2013-14, including The Globe, UGA and Cine, but The Coffee Shop of Athens was our “home base.” ).

Luckily, we have found a new home for our public readings at the fabulous Normal Books on Prince Avenue. Although we hosted a successful reading for our anthology, Laughin’ in Athens at the Athens-Clarke County Library in September 2016, and we are grateful for the ACC library’s ongoing support of our organization, we are thrilled to have formed a new partnership with this local gem of a bookstore in Athens).

However – there was a void, so to speak, in our programming, after The Coffee Shop of Athens closed.  Throughout 2015, I remember missing reading in front of the live audience – it is important to be able to bring our writing to life by reading it aloud, in voice and character, for there is a difference in hearing the words performed that makes the stories and poems come alive, in a way that reading it on a piece of paper alone cannot compare to. Breathing life into the words we write has its own power – not only to entice people to want to read more of our work, but to teach us how to become the best public speakers and self-promoters we can be. All of us, if we’re lucky, will one day be standing at a podium in front of a large group in a bookstore, at a book fair, on a stage…telling a crowd of strangers about ourselves, as writers, and about our amazing book that we want them to buy (otherwise known as the book tour).

I wanted to bring that back to the Athens Writers Association. I missed it, and many people asked us, “When are you guys going to do another public reading?”

For a while, we didn’t have an answer. Until, I came up with the idea of a “Read-In.”

We had our first “Read-In” at Jittery Joe’s, but it didn’t take long to find a permanent home at Barnes and Noble Cafe. As I’ve always told people, what could be more inspiring than reading our stories and poems in a bookstore?

 

I never expected the “Read-Ins” to become as popular as they have.  (We recently celebrated our 3-year anniversary). Katherine tells me that she frequently hears people rave about the “Read-Ins” – how much fun they are having, how positive of an experience it is, and how good it feels to get support from their peers when they read. I hear some people are even getting over their fears of reading in public. All the things I  hoped for when I came up with the idea. I am so glad that people keep coming back, and for me, personally, I look forward to it every month. We have a handful of regular participants, and we always welcome new people – I keep it light and positive and upbeat and informal (people can come late and leave early), we keep the meetings to 2 hours, we always meet on a Thursday night, and best of all, if people do not bring something to read to the group, we are happy to have them participate by listening and giving feedback (which also is not required, but in 3 years, I’ve only had one author tell us she did not want feedback. Most of our writers come to hear both the accolades and the constructive suggestions from their peers).

We do have a few guidelines to keep the “Read-Ins” running smoothly: 20 minutes per person, for reading and feedback, no cell phones at the meeting (not at the table, that is), treat people with respect – i.e. when you give feedback, be honest, but be encouraging and helpful, not derogatory – which is not a problem. Our writers are the most supportive group of people you could hope to read for – or so I’m told by many of our participants.

Because we read in an open cafe in a bookstore where children are sometimes present, unfortunately, we have to keep our material “PG-13,” but it’s a small sacrifice in order to be able to come to Barnes and Noble every month. They are very accommodating and supportive of our group’s monthly gatherings.

You might ask, what is it specifically about a “Read-In” that makes it so special?

Well, I will tell you that you might hear a different answer depending on whom you ask.

For me, it’s a toss-up between the people who come and their amazing writing – which, let’s face it, go hand in hand.

There have been so many incredible people who have been part of the “Read-Ins” and their writing has never ceased to impress and entertain me, but here are a few of my memories that have made our AWA “Read-Ins” so unique and meaningful:

One of our veterans, Jay, is a “renaissance” writer: he writes in a unique voice that showcases his talent for humor, dialogue, character and creativity.  He writes science fiction, scary stories, memoirs, travel essays, fiction (one of his short stories was published in a literary journal), humorous anecdotes about his personal adventures…he’s done it all. Everyone loves his writing – he always entertains us, and he also is very helpful and encouraging to others – whether they be other veterans or brand new to the group.

An editing client of mine, Eric, works full time, and began writing in his spare time a while back. He has his own website, wrote a book of Christmas stories, and has been working on another science fiction/adventure book that is fantastic. But, he had not read any of his writing in front of other people and was not sure, at first, if he felt comfortable doing so. (Often we writers feel shy about public speaking, that’s one reason we express our thoughts in writing instead). When Eric first came, he waited for everyone else to read first before deciding if he wanted to read his own writing. From what I recall, his impression of the others’ positivity and moral support inspired him to get his feet wet and take a chance on reading his own prose.  He told me afterward that it was such a positive experience for him, that it eliminated his fears of reading aloud, and he was eager to come back again. I was touched that we made his first try at a public reading such a great experience for him – and – that it made him want to come back for more!

Two of our regular participants, Chris and Sharon, often bring their poetry (Sharon also writes prose). Their poems are honest, raw, lyrical and have moved me, deeply, as well as doing so for many others. I appreciate that they trust our group to be a place of safety and appreciation for their very personal and beautiful poems. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, no doubt, but I do not take for granted that they both are open to sharing their poems aloud, with us, publicly, nonetheless.

My colleague and co-founder, Elsa, has shared many excerpts from books she has written, or is writing, and her voice is powerfully unique and strong and creative. She creates complex characters with humor and fire who make you think. My favorite, so far, is “Connie.” Elsa laughs whenever I bug her, “When are you going to read us another chapter about ‘Connie?'”  It’s almost like a private joke between the two of us now (she has read two or three chapters from the book, which may be a series, I’m not sure), but I get a rise out of her every time I bring up “Connie.” It’s fun, but seriously, we all have found “Connie” to be brash and funny, and the story is a shocker at times, but in the best way!

A few months ago, one of our newer members brought her 11-year old granddaughter, Ella, to read (Yes, young writers are always welcome!) and being a former teacher, I took special delight in hearing her read her poem about her horse.  Ella has a gift, and a voice that is pure and authentic, as most young writers do, before the world of publishers and editors, and school, period, for that matter, edits it for them. That experience took me back to my days as a teacher.  I often don’t think about how much I miss teaching, and especially, how much I miss working with the kids – it is a labor of love that is truly worth it.

We host writers that come a few times, and then life happens, and we don’t see them again. They have enriched our “Read-Ins” as much as the regulars and I treasure all the prose and poetry they have graced us with over the years.

One of my favorites was Jamie. She came a couple of times to read from her fan fiction, based on the movie, “Carol,” starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Oh my gosh! Jamie’s dialogue was mind-blowing! I didn’t see the film, but I felt as if I walked right into the middle of it. (Fan fiction is a genre where people take the characters from a favorite book or TV series or movie and create new plots to continue where the original piece left off. It’s very popular with the Twilight and Harry Potter books). We were all struck by the powerful scenes that Jamie wrote, and by her fearless performance. I’ve seen Jamie at the ACC library a couple of times and I hope she will come back someday.

That’s just a taste of what we do at “Read-Ins,” and why they are so important to our writers in the AWA (or so I’m told:) I hope that we continue to welcome new writers, new readers, fresh voices, and their fiction, essays, non-fiction and poetry for years to come. We’ve been going strong so far, and I am so happy that the monthly “Read-Ins” have become such an integral part of the Athens Writers Association’s mission to bring writers together in a circle of mutual support and professional growth through collaboration, cooperation and camaraderie.

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Image courtesy of Athens Writers Association and Katherine Cerulean, founder and president

 

 

Athens, Georgia, Editors, Writers, Writing

50,000 words in 30 days…

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

When most people think of November 1, they begin to think about Thanksgiving dinner, holiday travel plans (Where should we go this year?), Black Friday, Christmas decorations in all the stores, cooler weather, maple leaves in autumn’s colors, Daylight Savings and…if you’re a writer…like me…

…National Novel Writing Month.

November 1st is 4 days away. The clock is ticking. Only a few days left to set up your writing space,prepare your plot outline, clear your social calendar, and rearrange your schedule so you can make your minimum daily word count of 1,667 words.

In other words, November 1 begins the writing marathon: 50,000 words in 30 days.

Here in Athens, Georgia, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a very big deal. We have a Facebook group (Athens Wrimos), we have a municipal liaison (this year it is one of my AWA colleagues – I’m very excited for her!), we have a kick-off event on November 1st (not a moment to waste), the Night of Writing Dangerously (for some this is an all-night event – I’ve never made it to one of them), write-ins, sprint competitions, and more than 200 participants (for a college town this size, that is a large number of writers).

Basically, NaNoWriMo owns our lives for 30 days, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year may be particularly challenging for me, I admit, but I signed up yesterday, nevertheless. I can’t not sign up – not just because I am a co-founder of the Athens Writers Association and want to be a role model to my fellow writers, but mostly because this is our annual ritual – this is what we do – it’s unavoidable – we have to tackle the challenge – better to try and fail than not try at all. Or, as one of my favorite quotes says, “You only fail when you stop trying.”

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

In October 2015, I created a public reading group called “Read-Ins,” which was named as a play on our phrase, “Write-Ins.” I’m not sure if Katherine created it for the Athens Writers Association, or if she borrowed it from somewhere else, but it fits perfectly.  We used to perform public readings on a regular basis in 2013-2014, and when the Coffee Shop of Athens closed down, our public readings schedule hit a lull. We had one at Cine, and one at the ACC Library, but we were no longer regulars about town (Luckily, in 2018, Normal Bookstore has stepped up to support us and become the new “home” of the Athens Writers Association).

However, I was anxious to get our writers back out there reading their work in public – so – during the “void,” I came up with the idea to get a small group of writers togetherin an informal setting, instead. Once a month, we gather together to hear their poetry, fiction and non-fiction read aloud in the Barnes and Noble bookstore cafe. (Quite the fitting place to read our writing aloud, is it not?) We give each other feedback and applause, constructive criticism and praise, and…

…According to what I am told, everyone loves it, and is having a blast – it is by far one of the best things I’ve done in Athens.

Last week, a handful of writers and I commemorated the 3rd anniversary of the “Read-Ins” at our regular meeting spot in Barnes and Noble. After our meeting, we headed to Carrabas Grill to celebrate Katherine’s birthday, and to toast to 3 years of “Read-Ins.”

“Here’s to the beginning of our 4th!” I cheered.

As it was already the last week of October, inevitably, the dinner conversation shifted to the impending start of NaNoWriMo – and – the question that goes around the table every year around this time (usually put forth by my colleague, Danny).

“So, do you know what you are going to write for NaNoWriMo this year?” Danny announced.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

For a few moments, no one spoke up. Everyone looked at everyone else. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “you could hear a pin drop,” but, we all grew unmistakably quiet upon hearing the proverbial question.

NaNoWriMo can be intimidating if you overthink it.  After all, it is a competition, but it is a competition with yourself:

Can you set the goal to write ~2,000 words a day and complete a novel (or non-fiction book) in one month?

There are no losers, there are only winners.

Everybody who registers and makes the attempt to conquer the 50,000 word beast is a winner, for, let’s face it, many would simply shake their heads, “No, no, I can’t do that…”

When I first heard about it in 2011, from my San Diego Toastmasters colleague, Maxine, I was totally confused by the concept. She suggested I sign up next year.

The following year, I was living in Athens, Georgia.

One day, while having coffee with my friend Carmen, also a writer, the subject of NaNoWriMo came up again. She encouraged me to sign up, and even though I was about to leave on vacation for the month of November, I thought, “Why not?” Carmen was the person who explained to me how NaNoWriMo works, and that it is, indeed, a challenge to meet a goal for yourself: to write every single day, not to compete with anyone else (Incidentally, if you do not add any buddies, no one will ever know your word count).

I signed up late, and only made it to ~16,000 words that first year.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Oh well. At least I did it.

The following year, 2013, I tried again, while on vacation in November, again.

That year, I made it to ~21,000 words.

Closer, but not quite there yet

The following year, 2014, I stayed in Athens, and I’ve stayed in Athens every November since.

Somehow, that seemed to do the trick for me.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

In 2014, I finally won with ~53, 000 words – and it was one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of my lifetime.

I did even better in 2015, and hit ~88,000 words – how that happened, I do not know, but I wrote ~21,000 words in the first 2 days, so that sprint at the beginning had something to do with it. I did not repeat that miracle, but I did make the 50,000 word goal, and then some, in 2016 and 2017.

I attribute my success to the support of my peers, and the build-up of momentum that came from doing it once, meaning, if you can win once, you can do it again…and again…if you plan ahead, and work hard.

(A little luck doesn’t hurt, either – meaning, no unexpected life events get in the way).

Most of my friends in the Athens Writers Association who have participated in NaNoWriMo have accomplished that goal, and I have been as thrilled for them, as I was for myself. Elsa, Jay, Danny, Par, Jenny…they have all won, year after year, and I’m so proud to be among this group of talented writers.

How do we do it?

Let me count the ways…

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Tip #1: Breathe. You already won just by signing up.

Tip #2: Plan ahead.  Write an outline. Get your materials together – whatever you use – whether it be writers’ software (like Scrivener), notebooks, notecards and pens, storyboards, whatever works for you. You know yourself and what you need for your creativity to thrive!

Tip #3: Get involved with your home region: Look up your home region on the http://www.nanowrimo.org website and find your municipal liasions’ profiles.

Tip #4: Keep track of NaNoWriMo events in your home region:

The Kick-off party is a great beginning (I almost did not attempt NaNoWriMo in 2014 after two years of not reaching the goal, but I went to the KickOff party with Jenny on November 1st at Avid Bookshop and decided to give it a try again).

Sign up for online sprints – you can get a lot of writing done by writing as many words as you can in 10, 15, or 20 minutes. It’s fun to see how far you can get, and yes, there is a little bit of competition here with your peers who are also participating in the writing sprints, but it’s all in the spirit of writing more words and having fun.

Go to write-ins: getting together with a peer, or 3 or 4, or more, to write together does wonders for productivity. Take it from Par and me…we got a lot of writing done in past Novembers by working together at Starbucks (too bad they removed all of the comfy cushion seats, but we will not be deterred!).

Tip #5: Sign up for buddies on the website. It helps, and you can track how much your friends are writing, too.

Tip #6: Read the pep talks from the agents, authors, publishers and famous people supporting NaNoWriMo from all over the world- once you register on http://www.nanowrimo.org, you will receive their emails as they come in.

Tip #7: Don’t give up if you fall behind. Trust me. Everyone falls behind. You’d be amazed how fast you can catch up when you put your mind to it. Many of my friends have done it. In fact, one of my friends made her 50,000 words at 11:51 pm on November 30, 2016, with 9 minutes to spare. We all cheered for her at Hendershot’s – a win is a win. Until 11:59 pm, it isn’t over ’til it’s over!

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Time is the challenge: all of us who participate in NaNoWriMo still have to juggle normal life, but it’s possible, and in the end, you will have climbed the Mt. Everest of writing.

And you never know what could happen next…

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

November 1st is just a few days away, but do not be discouraged if you still aren’t sure what you are going to write yet – trust me – if you love to write, you have time to figure it out – take it from my friends, Danny and Jenny, it’s not too late to come up with an idea, and you probably have one already spinning in your brain, or written down inside a notebook somewhere, tucked away in a desk drawer, and ready to go!

Whatever you do, do not sell yourself short. You can do this.

It isn’t easy, but you know what they say, nothing worth having comes easily.

Go for it. Keep going. Don’t give up.

The world is waiting to read your book. All you have to do now…is write it.

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Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month