How Live Readings Can Help Your Writing


I am working the streets of San Francisco. Nightly, I prowl around Haight-Ashbury and North Beach, the Castro and Tenderloin, Fourth Street and Folsom. I ply my trade with men … as well as women, transgenders, at least one self-described Druid and the occasional mental patient. Oh, and writers, lots of wonderful, polished, professional, prolific, amateurish, awful and eager writers.

My trade is my novel: Finding Clarity:  A Mom, a Dwarf and a Posh Private School in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. And reading from it in a wide variety of venues to a complex and varied audience is a ball. I am having the time of my life – and that’s without landing either an agent or a publisher yet.


Guest column by Laura Novak. Laura was a
television news reporter before writing for The
New York Times on business, health and the arts.
She is working on the Clari Drake Mystery Series
set in Berkeley. Laura lives in the Bay Area and
you can find her work on or reach
her on Twitter. She also writes the “Medicine &
Manhood” column for The Good Men Project Magazine.

Two years ago I began transitioning from my career as a journalist by tapering off my work for The New York Times. I took my debut novel through several edits and began to explore the complicated road to publication. Social Media provided an opportunity to write for others and vastly expand my network of friends and colleagues.


In less than a year, I have become a top female author on, with 43,000 followers. As a result, the Scribd team invited me to read from Finding Clarity at this year’s Lit Quake festival in San Francisco.

I’d been a television news reporter back in the day. But to prepare for Lit Quake, I decided to scour San Francisco’s “open mic” scene. I figured if performance venues are good for struggling comics, they might just as well be a great idea for an author with a completed manuscript.

A simple Google search turned up a well-organized Bay Area open mic calendar, which meant I had no excuse but to dive in. As with most things in life, the first night was the hardest. But at each reading I’ve made friends, broadened my author connections and learned about the best places to read (the criteria being microphone quality, lighting and available food.)

The words “Smack Dab,” “Melt,” “Brain Wash” and the “Sacred Grounds Café” now roll off my tongue as if I’d been on the scene for decades. I’ve stood elbow to elbow with scruffy young things and their guitars at the Hotel Utah and I bonded with a working girl who gave me her undivided attention while I read from Chapter One in the Tenderloin.


You don’t have to wait for “something to happen” in order for things to be happening with your novel. I am out there doing it, living it! And I’m broadening my exposure for my manuscript. Each time I read, I explore my own text, emphasize words differently and take chances on intonation and pacing. I’ve absorbed silence and learned to pause when the belly laughs were so loud and long, even I had to chuckle at my own writing.

I don’t know what will happen with Finding Clarity. All I know is that I love it and love sharing it. And I am delighted that people sit quietly and give me the gift of their undivided attention when my five minutes on stage has begun.

My novel is undergoing a final copy edit as I write this. But I am not on hold. Finding Clarity doesn’t have to come to a bookstore near me for this journey to be complete. I am living my life by reading my words weekly, in all sorts of glorious, wild and crazy places. For me, this is what it is to be an author. And now I believe I just heard the timer. You’ve been a great audience. Thank you so much!