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"Whenever I get stuck—when the sentences close in on themselves or the characters don’t make sense or I just get that awful feeling of WTF STORY I HATE YOU I HATE YOU—I close the laptop and tell it out loud. Sometimes this means talking to myself in coffee shops or on the L train, folks nearby giving me the side eye. Sometimes it means having a drink or two or five with a friend, saying, “You’ll never believe what happened!” and then trusting how I naturally tell the story; how the words tangle together, how they connect with this particular audience, how they grab her, grip her, hold her. Sometimes it means asking my husband to listen—he is patient, and honest, and knew up front what he was getting himself in to. But mostly, it means finding a live show. In Chicago, there are several; storytelling events and curated performances and open mics in theaters, festivals, and bars. They’re happening every night, sometimes three or four a night, and there’s something magical about standing in front of those fifty or hundred or five hundred people and trusting the story; grabbing, gripping, holding. Their faces are the most immediate form of feedback. Are they laughing? Crying? Is the silence so heavy you could slice it? When did I lose them, what did I do to get them back, and—here is the important part—how does all of this translate to literary craft: pacing, structure, movement, tense, point of view, character, character, character? When I’m off the mike and back in my seat, I make notes—what did I learn from this performance and how will it influence my rewriting process? Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; I’m writing to share, and these moments of audience connection are everything—all of us face-to-face, eye-to-eye, on the edge of our seats and living the experience together."
—Megan Stielstra, author of Once I Was Cool (Curbside Splendor, 2014)