I always say at the beginning of a workshop: if tears come, don't worry. Let the waters flow. Don't even try to hold them back. Writing and reading our work aloud can unleash emotion like nothing else.
In one workshop, a young woman who was reading aloud for the first time choked up and couldn't go on. I read her piece for her; it was about being scolded for trying to use dialogue in a third grade writing assignment. The teacher told her: "We haven't studied that unit yet. What do you think you're doing, young lady?"
The young woman couldn't read her own work aloud for several weeks. She learned that, even though she had written a dissertation and was earning a PhD, she didn't feel she had written anything true since that experience in the third grade.
"I can't believe this," another teary woman said, in another workshop. "I don't remember having any feelings like these when I wrote the piece."
Writing brings stuff up. It just does. So does reading our work aloud. That's one reason I encourage people to read in workshops. We find out how close to the artery we're digging.
Last week, I surprised myself and suddenly couldn't go on with a piece I had just, blythely, scratched out--in response to one of my own prompts.
Flannery O'Conner said that when you share your writing you might save somebody else's life. Even if you don't, the life you save might be your own.
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