Posted on | September 29, 2014 | 2 Comments
Writers: Amaze yourself. You can continue to grow, conquer new frontiers, and get over bogeyman fears.
This summer I conquered a decades-old, handwringing panic, that kept me from standing before a group of strangers and sharing words aloud. I was motivated by my resolve to grow as a writer, become known as an author, and, of course, market my own book. It was a battle fought over many years. Perhaps some of you have been there too. My story may encourage, amuse, surprise, even inspire you.
Journalist, editor, then PR writer, I’ve always loved to write on any subject. For some, pitching a story by phone, email or fax is a piece of cake. It was for me. Writing became a different animal when I began to pen fiction, the most fun of all … except for the troll that lurked in my head.
Eager to enter the storyteller’s world, I joined writer’s organizations, dragging the ugly little devil with me. I discovered critique groups and found that writers read their words aloud … to each other and to strangers.
Over the past five years, I learned to read in front of four or five fellow writers during critique sessions. No one asked me to leave. I started to trust myself as a writer.
I’ve listened, with awe as others read from their wonderful works at group gatherings and to the general public. Could I do that? I wondered. My ogre awakened and spewed. Oh no, fictional stories are intimate, word pictures in some ways drawn from life. You’ll be judged and found wanting. What if I stumbled over my words? What if my voice was unpleasant in timbre? What if my insides seized up, grew numb and the words wouldn’t come out? What if people hated my work? I dredged up every scary thought, coddled it, fed it and feared it more than ever.
Then, I finished the first draft of my novel. After decades of allowing my fiend, the terror of public speaking, to sit on my shoulder like a monkey, I knew I would have to give it up. But how would I cross that tightrope? The thought of speaking in public still left me breathless.
In my first career as a dancer, stage fright was my bugaboo. I’d stand in the wings shaking my arms and legs, trying hard not to panic as my appendages grew icy numb. Then miracle of miracles, on cue I’d step out on stage and lose myself in the music. Safe, I’d let my body do the talking. Hidden between the notes, I’d dance my way through the choreography.
In my second incarnation as a Public Relations maven, I buried myself in press release writing, media phone conversations, and a million behind the scenes production chores it takes to produce successful events. I didn’t speak at public gatherings. Ever. The idea paralyzed me. I was okay onstage if my performance was silent. But my ability stopped there. One-on-one conversations were my forte, I told myself, and I believed it wholly. I was a secret mover and shaker, in a prison of my own making. And I knew it.
Take heart, my fellow travelers. You can lose your ogre. It turned out to be a lot like quitting smoking, cold turkey. I acted with intent. I wanted to get a feel for the frightening experience, watch the authors and sense the audience. One day I hiked myself to a small public reading event, put on every month by a writer’s organization I belong to. I sat and listened to the featured and open mic readers share their works. I marveled at their courage. At the very end, I approached the moderator. In a trembly whisper, I asked if I might just get up, introduce myself and say what it was I wrote, and why I had come.
Hands like ice cubes, I stood in front of the microphone. I spoke for a nervous minute or two. Then I turned to flee, and was shooed back on to the small stage. Two audience members actually had questions about my book and my background that I enjoyed answering. The ice melted a little.
The following week I wrote a short story, practiced my read, and tried it out on my wonderful critique group, who offered a few suggestions and cheered the story. Several days later, I stood on the same stage, using the full five minutes allotted, and read for a new audience. There were perhaps fifteen or twenty listeners. Their enthusiastic applause was deafening to my virginal ears. I even got some personal compliments on my reading style. Who’d a’ guessed.
My troll has been evicted, thanks to the companionship, expertise and encouragement of other writers who write from the heart to entertain, inform and engage their readers. Thank you all, so much.