I missed my Wednesday post this week, but I have a reason. I was hard at work on a story for the Moth Story Slam. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s an offshoot of the Moth Story Hour that plays on NPR – true, autobiographical stories, told live, no notes.
For a long time I had been wanting to tell the story of how I got away from my abusive college boyfriend (which includes how I got mixed up with him to begin with). The theme for the Slam this month was “Witness.” I knew I could make my story work with that theme.
So, here’s how to get ready to do a Moth Story Slam:
Three weeks out. Make a calendar entry to remind yourself to draft the story. Procrastinate until there are two weeks to go.
Two weeks out, while stuck on an airplane where you’re too cheap to pay for wireless, or movies, pound out a draft. Realize the topic is scary and hard to write about and ignore the draft for a few days.
Do some rough calculations about how many words will be needed to meet the 5-minute window each story is allowed. Way overestimate. Fill the story with every last detail and give it a long tail of aftermath.
Read the story to yourself with a timer and realize it’s two times too long.
Trim it down and integrate a really great concept a friend gave you about integrating the theme more deeply into the story.
Read it again and come in at about 7.5 minutes.
Anxiously read the guidelines, and with images being dragged off stage with a shepherd’s crook, trim it down some more.
Realize this is good – this is getting down to the essence of the story. Read and trim and read and trim until you can read it silently in 5 minutes.
The night before, read it out loud, and discover that the cadence of reading out loud is much slower and that the story, spoken out loud, takes up about 6.5 minutes.
Trim some more. Now it’s really down to the nitty-gritty.
The day of, wake up bright and early, and keep the schedule clear, to allow time to practice. Promptly fire up the laptop and surf the internet for several hours.
Recite the story a few times and worry that it seems wooden. Listen to some Moth stories to get a sense of the correct tone.
Realize you don’t need to memorize it exactly, because the tone should be more conversational than recitative, but then worry that that’s just an excuse to blow off practicing and that you’re going to make a fool of yourself in front of a hundred or so people.
Start to feel queasy and lie down for a bit, while running through the story in your head. Realize that by Jove, you’ve got it!
Agonize over outfit choices and finally pick a getup that seems hip enough for the audience, but still authentic (SO not a hipster).
Tell the story and almost win the slam (I came in second by 3/10 of a point). Have such a great time you resolve to keep coming back until you win.
A note about my story – they say that you should write what scares you. The topic was a very emotional one for me, and as much as it was hard to write, it was harder to tell others the story and it will be even harder to post it here. But, enough people told me that they were inspired, that I will post it, after the recording goes live (I’ll post the link and the written story) because I want other women, especially young women, to know that you can go through something horrible and go on to have a good life. Stay tuned for that.