As a student body, we’ve been thinking a lot about timing.

Why? Because every residency, we have something along the order of five readings. That’s five nights during which students spend another hour or so listening to valued fellow students and guest faculty read from their works. We do this at Whidbey for several reasons:

  1. Reading to a group is a professional skill, one which every student should have well under their belts.
  2. Reading your work out loud is yet another way of getting to know it, inside and out.
  3. Reading your work out loud is a gift to the audience: It’s rare that folks get to hear an author’s words from their own lips. It’s a gift that shouldn’t be taken lightly on either end.
  4. Getting to hear the pros gives us something to aspire to.

The flip, less-sexy-but-equally-important side to each of these reasons is time limits. Each reader is given an allotted amount of time, and each reader should stick to that allotted time, regardless of whether or not the readers feels the need to make a tremendously long explanation to his or her work. Here are the reasons why:

  1. It’s only fair to the other readers, that you each get the same allotment of time.
  2. If  you need to explain your work and the explanation takes up the bulk of your allotted time, then the piece needs more work.
  3. Readings are meant to whet the listener’s appetite for more from the writer, that’s all. Complete stories are nice, but hardly necessary.

At NILA, it’s students who run the readings. We’ve come up with several ideas, some of which were submitted by faculty, to encourage folks to stick to their time limits. They are:

  • Water pistols
  • Burp guns (both ping-pong and marshmallow)
  • Gigantic “Gong Show” type gong
  • Big hook, a la the old vaudeville shows
  • Swelling music that eventually drowns out the speaker, a la award shows

Hm. I like all of these. What’s your choice for encouraging folks to keep to time limits?



  1. I suppose the Spanish Inquisition wouldn’t come in on cue, would they?

    Other options:

    1. Hand kazoos out to the audience. Appoint a kazoo ringleader.

    2. Find one of those “APPLAUSE” signs and put it up behind the speaker. Instruct audience to applaud when it lights up.

    3. Teach Sprocket to tell time. Sprocket will know what to do.

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