Maybe you missed the Thursday, July 30, gathering of Niki Patton’s Writers Read at the West Tisbury library. Have no fear: The next chance to join her one-hour workshop will be at the second annual Islanders Write event on Monday, August 10, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.
Ms. Patton’s workshop will mimic the style of her monthly Writers Read events, which she established this past winter at the library. Ms. Patton has been a professional writer, filmmaker, artist, and singer-songwriter, who now finds joy in listening to others. I recently caught up with Ms. Patton in a conversation in her West Tisbury yard.
Valerie Sonnenthal: What started the idea for Writers Read?
Niki Patton: It’s a combination of a couple of things. I’ve been in several writers’ groups, and am currently in a writers’ group I’ve been with for about a year. I’ve written a bunch, and read my writing a bunch, and I realized I was ready to not read, but facilitate. Just facilitate, and that was combined with two other things. There is a lot of poetry on the Island, a lot of poetry forums. I’m not a poetry fanatic; I like some poetry, but I noticed there weren’t any prose forums on the Island like there were for poetry.
VS: Even though we have quite a lot of writers read in all the town libraries?
NP: There’s not a forum the same way there is for poetry. Someone may write a book and read it, or finish something and read it, but there wasn’t a sense of a group of authors who could read their stuff. I love the sound of prose. I love to hear the voices of prose…. For me, prose was missing. I’m ready to facilitate this, and don’t need to read my own work, which was important. I don’t want to be the reader here. And I would like to be able to commit to it on a monthly basis. And I want to structure it in a way I now have integrated into my own work. So once I had this body together, I then said, “No-brainer. West Tisbury library.” Our amazing library, which is so supportive of all of this. I went to Beth [Kramer, library director] and said, “How about a writers’ group here that does readings?” She said, “Perfect. Why haven’t we done this before?”
VS: How are you setting up your workshop at Islanders Write?
NP: It will be dependent on how many people arrive. If we have three it will be a very different format. If we have 20, I’ll do it in a “Moth” format, in which we’ll throw the names in a hat to pick who gets to read and the order. They’ll have to bring their writing with them if they want to do this. There will be a five-minute limit. There will be an intro about what I’ve learned about critique and supporting your beloved or local writer, and how well it works. I’m actually the person who coined the term “reverse editing.” Tell ’em what works. You don’t have to tell them what doesn’t work; they’ll drop that by themselves once they know what works. There is a stage beyond that, where you’re working with somebody and say, “Oh, this is perfect, and you are ready for critique or criticism.” I don’t think anybody is ever ready for slicing and dicing — that’s a whole other philosophy. And the last part is something I just heard of recently, which is if the author needs some inspiration as to what or where they go next in what they’re working on, allow the audience to ask questions. What’s your character wearing? Where did they go on vacation?
VS: Right, whatever the thing is that somebody is missing in that moment that they want to see or learn more about.
NP: They want to learn more about in your story. You may or may not use it, but it’s an option for you to hear it. Now the reasons for this are that writers read to people, and they haven’t the vaguest idea what to say to writers when they read: “Oh, I think I’m supposed to criticize what you just wrote; you really should take out that sentence.” [laughs] However, it should be the author’s call.
NP: And I’ve written for money. When you write for money, they get to tell you whatever they want to tell you — take that out, lose this, this is terrible, this is great. Although that’s changing too. But other than that, when an author is working they need to hear — if they need to hear information from someone else — they should be able to call what they need to hear. Art is not a slice-and-dice process for most people. We live in a very male-oriented format view, meaning if you can’t survive creating by destruction, you’re out.
VS: For people who’ve attended Writers Read events, how will this workshop be different?
NP: When I do this at the West Tisbury library, I don’t say anything about what I’m doing. I just say, Here are your options, to the audience and the author. I’m going to explain it now, because I think there are enough authors and audiences who wrestle with this. I will say to the authors, You need to ask for what you need when you are reading your piece. Don’t imagine that you are invulnerable.
VS: You’re really a mediator here, allowing people to have a different kind of experience in terms of listening and responding, and maybe they take that and can be that way with their own work. So what kind of feedback have you gotten from your Writers Read series?
NP: I’m having a great time. The emails I’m getting back are like, “This is wonderful, thank you so much.” And it’s just this sense of “I didn’t know I could do this.”
Niki Patton’s Writers Read workshop at Islanders Write, Monday August 10 at noon, Grange Hall, West Tisbury. Free and open to the public.