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The Shy Writer Reborn
By C. Hope Clark
At the tender age of thirteen, I dared tell my mother that I hated piano recitals. I loved playing, just not in front of people. She attributed my lamentation to cold-feet, butterflies and youth. Lying awake, I cried myself to exhaustion, my pillow soaking wet at the fear of that stage. And I spent my nights pondering how to break my arm.
I followed through with the recital but never returned to piano lessons. I’m sure my mother gave up frustrated, because we never spoke of it again.
This is how introverted people think, and all too often, their fears culminate in giving up. We number many, almost half the population. The problem is we don’t know about each other because we aren’t that social. Maybe that’s why Facebook is so popular. It’s safe, and full of many people like us. (Keep that in mind when self-promoting.)
I’m often asked how a shy writer can “overcome” being introverted. That catapults me into a rant. Introversion isn’t a bad habit, it’s in our DNA. In my own struggle with shyness I grew tired of being told to change who I was.
It’s About Confidence
Confidence is key in being able to perform, whether we’re writing, pitching agents, speaking or holding an interview. When we feel good about our task, we step up and do a better job. So I decided the point wasn’t to rid ourselves of shyness, but to amp up our confidence.
After so many years of speaking and studying the introverts versus the opposite, I’ve come to realize that we get confused. We mistake introverts for extroverts, simply because they are doing what we fear and are pulling it off. We can also mistake the introverts for extroverts, because they are so busy overcompensating for their nervousness, that they overplay their hand. We might see them as clowns, when deep inside they are pretending so hard they could throw up.
High levels of stimuli put us on guard, so when we enter the public eye, our nerves take a beating. But society has taught us that normal means we should waltz into such an environment and perform. You prefer to be judged by your merits, not some presentation. So how do we master hordes of humans . . . the readers? You learn to do what’s natural, at your speed . . . under your own terms.
Set Your Terms
Make yourself more comfortable with a situation, and learn to guide yourself through moments you once never thought you could handle:
- Know the people you have to deal with.Before a conference, research the agent you pitch. Before you send a manuscript, study the publisher. When you speak, ask about the dynamics of the group. Ask someone else who pitched before you what they thought of the editor or agent. Become acquainted with people as much as you can before meeting them. Give yourself an edge.
- Know the places where you have to appear. When faced with speaking, walk through the empty room ahead of time. Try to find an opportunity to sit in the room when someone else speaks. Go ahead of time to your pitch and get a feel for the setup. Ask others who pitch before you about the space. Arrive at conferences ahead of time and wander around in the peace and calm to acclimate.
- Know your material. Mold your elevator blurb. Develop one-liners to questions you expect to receive or the work you wrote. Practice your talk. Prepare notecards. With a thorough knowledge, your confidence is higher because you don’t have to fake anything when queried.
- Know yourself. What irritates, scares, unnerves or rattles you? Simple things can remove the edge. Make yourself smile. Dress exceptionally well so that you feel special. To keep your hands occupied, hold a drink, pen, book or other token to feel less exposed. Use a podium. Use Skype instead of face-to-face, or heck, use the phone. Have rote comments memorized about yourself, your writing habits, or your work-in-progress. Even choose to pitch the slush pile versus a real-time pitch. Publish ebooks and stay behind your computer. Find your comfort level and capitalize on it.
In The Shy Writer Reborn, I give you tricks to help you in your journey. Common sense tricks like removing certain words from your vocabulary (i.e., just, but, only, never). Ask yourself one of several questions when in the midst of a nervous, introverted moment. Questions like, “What if I wasn’t afraid?” or “What will I do when this is over?” to shift your focus. Define your passion by analyzing what brings you alive, then insert that passion or belief into your nervous situation. You can even brand yourself so that it speaks for you so loudly you hardly have to introduce yourself. A simple, creative, professional nametag with that brand makes other people address you, instead of you having to break the ice. The list goes on and on.
If you are shy, embrace it rather than regret it. You can change from glass-half-empty to glass-half-full and still be you.
C. Hope Clark is editor of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and is also the editor of FundsforWriters.com with 40K readers and the distinction of being in Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. And of course, she is author of The Shy Writer Reborn: An Introverted Writer’s Wake-up Call. www.chopeclark.com