"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Monday, August 22, 2011

What? I Have to Speak!


I’ve always been a shy person so writing became a natural way for me to express myself. I think it stems from my parents’ philosophy that children should be seen and not heard, and that a child wasn’t supposed to interrupt the adults unless there was fire or blood. (Being the youngest of four children, I was even more unlikely to get a voice.) Anyway, my parents were so successful in instilling this mindset in me that when I finally became an adult and realized I could now voice my opinion, I didn’t know how. I was of the notion that nothing I had to say could possibly be important enough for others to listen to. I mean, if there was no fire or blood, it had to be true, right? But when I sat down to write, I could talk through my characters and they could say exactly what I wanted them to say, and other characters would respond exactly as I wanted them to respond. Such gratification.

I think a lot of writers are shy for whatever reason, and they’d like to just be left alone in their little attic alcoves or their basement cubbyholes and write. But then one day all that writing pays off and they find themselves with a published book in hand. They go forth to promote it, and, to their dismay, the phone starts ringing. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has one question: “Will you come speak to our group?”

That’s when the old heart sinks and you stutter and stammer and finally say yes because it’s so damn hard to say no. You arrive at the meeting and you wish to hell you’d stayed in your attic writing brilliant prose. You struggle your way through a “speech” with shaking hands and dry mouth, and when it’s over you rush back home and say, “I am NEVER going to do that again.”

And then the phone rings. “Will you come speak at our conference?”

Shit.

You seriously consider delisting your phone number.

Of course, there are rewards to public speaking. You sell books and meet a lot of great, like-minded people, and often come away with new friendships. And you might find you actually enjoy it. (I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but wonders never cease). Also, if you make yourself go out and speak every time you’re asked, then eventually you might relax and get the hang of it. (I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but wonders never cease).

Then there are those writers who should have been actors or stand-up comedians. I SO admire them. They love the spotlight. Their audiences love them, and they sell tons of books. They walk into a room and command attention. I love listening to them, and wish I could be like them. They are not just writers. They are entertainers. But I have also listened to speakers who thought they were terrific but who were so self-centered and arrogant, or boring, that I walked away deciding not to buy their books. So sometimes NOT speaking might be the wiser choice.

What I’m getting at here is that you have to know your own personality when it comes to speaking, and you have to try to find the balance that works for you. For me, I can handle small, informal groups of writers and readers, and I love sitting around chatting about books and writing. I don’t mind being on panels because it’s not really a “speech” and I don’t have to wax poetic, dance, or sing. I can answer questions and give opinions until the cows come home. But I hate getting up behind a podium with a room full of people who expect me to be as witty and clever and brilliant as my books! I’d rather go to the dentist and have my teeth drilled without novocaine. Seriously.

Still there’s hope even for us painfully shy people. You might be able to work yourself up to the bigger gigs and find out you really enjoy all the attention and accolades. If you are determined to be a good speaker, take classes in speaking (and acting!) and see if you can overcome your fright. Tell yourself that when you get up in front of people, they are there to learn something from you--they’re not there to watch you shaking in your boots. They truly want you to succeed. If you can convince yourself of this one simple thing, you can oftentimes pull it off and walk away saying, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad. I might do it again.”

Bottom line: it behooves writers to hone their speaking skills because writing nowadays is all about self-promotion. Publishers love writers who are great speakers because they can go forth and hand-sell tons of their books at conferences and similar venues. So whether you love to be in the spotlight, or whether you hate it, writing isn’t the solitary career you might have thought it was. Some day that phone will ring, and you will be asked to speak.

6 comments:

Emily Sandifer said...

Well said, Ma. Good luck on your speech! The more you do it, the easier it DOES get. :) Besides, it'll all be over the next day.

bluesagewriters@live.com said...

Linda you crack me up! I love this post! I could see you pounding out every word. Especially that one when you got the second call. I'm sitting here with a big grin on my face.

But even though you're making jokes about speaking, I know it's hard for you. As Emily said the more you speak the easier it gets. I hope it does, because you have a wealth of information to share, wonderful books to promote, and you are a great author more people should get to know!

Sherry

Linda Sandifer said...

Thanks Sherry and Emily. Right now I don't have any speeches on the horizon. And I really hope this post doesn't generate any. I'm happy just writing in blissful peace in my cubbyhole.

Will Edwinson said...

HI linda:

Great post. I, like you, was brought up the same way. I think it was just part of the times and not necessarily our parents.

I can certainly empathize with your fear of speaking. I'm the same way. You'd think someone who has a couple of albums under his helt, and was a featured singer on many programs from Sun Valley, Idaho to Lake Havasu City, Arizona (and places in between) would not have speaker's stage fright. But although I was very relaxed doing that, put me behind a podium and tell me to give a speech, and it's instant Dumbo.

I guess what made the singing easier, was because I was singing someone elses words; and the applause helped a lot too, I think.:) But like, you, I'm still terrified of public speaking; not because I'm afraid of the large crowd, but rather of vanity. I'm afraid of making a fool of myself.

B.J. Anderson said...

This made me laugh so much! I've taken speech classes, and they do help, but it's still nerve wracking. When all else fails, imagine everyone in their underwear. Great post!

Linda Sandifer said...

Yes, Bonny, I've heard about the underwear thing, but you always get some smirky person in the audience and you wonder if they're thinking of "you" in your underwear! Ha, ha.