Yesterday, I was corresponding with a friend looking for information on how to do a public reading in front of a live audience. I’ve never done a reading in front of an audience but on November 2nd, I will be doing just that. The Prana Café and Teahouse in Toronto is going to host my very first public reading. I’ve been doing readings on the radio but those were a little different. Doing a reading in front of a group of people I don’t know is somewhat intimidating.
My friend congratulated me on doing this, saying that most people wouldn’t do something that scared them. When I first became published, I made a decision to say yes to any promotional opportunities that came along and, with one exception, I’ve done exactly that. Even though every time I’ve done one of these promo opportunities it has scared me to death.
The problem is these days that writers are expected to have a number of personalities. One is the writing personality who is an introvert. Writing is not something that I can do with somebody else. All of it comes from somewhere within and I dump it out into the computer. The other personality is the one that’s supposed to know how to deal with people, how to do readings and how to look confident and comfortable doing everything. It’s a dichotomy, and it’s one that every published writer these days has to deal with.
It’s not just in writing where this expectation has happened. I’ve been in information technology for many years. I started off as a computer programmer and I’ve done just about every job in information technology. It used to be, as a programmer, that you could hide in your cubicle and nobody bothered you as long as you were doing your job. Now, technical people are expected to have excellent soft skills as well. Companies want their technical people to not only be technically proficient but be able to relate to other people. There are places for pure technical people but, more and more, technical people are expected to be more than just technical. They are expected to be socially well adjusted and not scratch or adjust their privates in public. Most women don’t do this but some men still haven’t caught this part of social etiquette. But aside from the very obvious like this, social skills are vital.
I have never considered myself an outgoing person. But since being published and doing signings, doing interviews and doing all the external things related to writing, I’ve learned how to be more comfortable in social settings. I’ve learned how to reach out to people to a certain extent. I’ve learned how to be more outgoing and confident in myself. I attribute that to directly to the peripheral writing activities.
The thing is with fear, unless there is a very real possibility of being physically hurt, it’s all in your head. People will say they can’t do something whether that’s public speaking or traveling by themselves or meeting new people or any number of things. But what they are actually saying is that they don’t have the guts to try, that they won’t do certain things because they’re afraid.
I think with fear you have to break it down. Some of the questions I ask myself when something scares me are:
1) Am I going to be physically hurt?
2) How realistic are my fears? I mean, are people going to throw rotten fruit at me at this reading? Are people going to start laughing at me? Are they going to be unkind, are they going to hate me? Am I going to lose my voice suddenly? (At the first public speaking event I did a number of years ago, I actually did lose my voice because I was so nervous. Perhaps some people at this point would have thought, oh my God, that is the worst thing ever to happen and I’m never doing that again; my thinking was, okay, the worst happened, it will only get better from here. And it did).
When I look at things this way, I realize that very few things are actually going to harm me. In fact, doing these things will help me. I have what I call the “bubble theory of life”. My bubble theory of life is that life is like a big elastic balloon. If you’re not pushing on the balloon from the inside, breathing life into it, pretty soon your balloon turns into a straitjacket and you can’t do anything—you have allowed your fears to immobilize you. So, breathing air/activities into your balloon expands your boundaries.
I’m not talking about throwing yourself off a building or mountain climbing. I’m not talking about things that could possibly hurt me because quite honestly I have a fear of heights and I’m quite comfortable with that fear. J Now some people could turn around and say well your bubble theory of life says that you should be throwing yourself out of an airplane and they could be right, but I really don’t see any point in doing that. It doesn’t help me. So it’s not a priority for me.
What is a priority for me is anything that will help me in my day-to-day life. I try to be pragmatic about the things I do. Everything is for a purpose. If I need to do something to get to where I want to go, then I’ll do it. I’m also not talking about the things that I have to do as opposed to the things I want to do. Having fun is just as pragmatic as being responsible. Everyone needs a balance for good mental health and an enjoyable life.
So instead of turning down opportunities and adventures because they scare you, give it a shot and just say yes. Yes, I will do that. Yes, I will go there. Yes, I will do that public reading. Because after all, you only get one shot at life and you might as well make the most of it.
I hope that I will see some of you at my first public reading of Pitch Dark. The Prana Café & Teahouse is located at 2130A Queen Street East, on the corner of Queen and Hammersmith in The Beaches in Toronto. The date is Tuesday, November 2, 2010, the time is 6:30pm - find a seat, schmooze and order one of their fabulous coffees. The readings begin at 7:00pm.