This evening, my creative writing students will be giving a public reading at our college. Yesterday, when we met for class, most of them looked so nervous, like I’d just asked them to perform open-heart surgery Macgyver-style. The idea of standing in front of people and talking is daunting enough, but now I had asked them to read their personal writing, writing that they aren’t that confident in yet. I know their feeling – in some degree, I feel it every time I read in public. I believe my student Caroline expressed this feeling best – terror.

Yet, I believe that public readings are a very important part of the writing life, especially these days when writers have to be not only good writers but also marketing experts as well. So, I require my students to read publicly, just for 5-10 minutes. It’s scary, but safe. No one here will heckle; I will be there smiling and encouraging them; and they can bring (or leave at home) their families and friends for support. I hope this is a way to help them ease into this part of the writing life as painlessly as possible.

My class is designed to help people become writers, not just people who write. So I make them draft a lot. I require them to revise and workshop. I give them writing experiments every class so that they can keep working on those ideas and concepts for their work. I require them to submit to a literary journal since that, too, is a big part of the writing life. And I make them read in public. I tried to craft a course that includes all the things I do as a writer, and I hope it helps them see writing for all it is – glorious, hard, scary, beautiful, fulfilling, and ever-changing.

This semester, perhaps more than any other, I’m starting to see these guys come alive to writing. Most of them have shed that pretentious “artiness” that most of us have when we try to write like we think we should, and all of them have shown great growth in their understanding of language and craft. I’m very proud of them.

Tonight, if you’re free and in the Baltimore or Philly area, come on over to Cecil College and see the reading. It starts at 6:30 in the Milburn Stone Theater lobby and is free. It promises to be a great time with wonderful writing.

And if you can’t make it out tonight, be sure to love on the writer you know. We are all a little terrified sometimes, and we need that support you can give us.