I have decided I need to reconsider my relationship to the ‘Open Mic’ i.e. to adjust not only my expectations of what I should expect to get from such events, but what I should contribute too.
I might as well say it straight out: Open Mics have nothing to do with good writing.
Don’t get me wrong, there is often good work shared at an Open Mic – but such an occurrence is not necessarily the norm. It seems to me the primary purpose of such events – of such democratic events – is to provide a platform for readers to read, not for listeners to listen. After all, writers are largely egocentric: we believe we have something to say, and we believe what we write and the way we write – in spite of any public protestations to the contrary – is good enough not only to convey our message but to be heard. Otherwise why do it?
From the perspective of the Open Mic, the end result is invariably the presentation of material which will veer from the very good to something other.
Those who read at Open Mics also get a secondary benefit from participating, namely the opportunity to measure themselves in a safe environment – “my stuff’s better than that!” – the possibility of a second ego-massage following on from actually standing up and reading in the first place.
All of which sounds rather negative, doesn’t it? But Open Mics do have a really important role to play. They allow writers to test themselves, to be seen and heard, to practice, to learn, and hopefully to improve – and surely that last point is the most important? You discover what goes down well and what is less well received; and you should be able to tune into the good work and the less so.
Think about it, the Open Mic is the literary equivalent of ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ – though compressed to around five. Your performance won’t make you a star or earn a vast new audience of dedicated followers. And as a listener, when your turn is over – or while you’re waiting to go – what do want to hear? Probably anything entertaining. And very often good writing, serious pieces, are simply not ‘entertaining’ enough in such an environment. Who gets the loudest applause? The person who makes the audience laugh or smile – irrespective of how ‘good’ their writing is.
So coming back to what I should contribute… Don’t try and use Open Mics as opportunities to take deep, serious, complex, ‘meaningful’ writing for a stroll. Do try and keep contributions relatively short, punchy, fun (if possible), and accessible – perhaps the most important of all.
Which is a challenge if that’s not your natural style…!
Please check out my Walking Thur Fire podcast on Audible. A podcast: a one-person Open Mic!