Pep Talk: Tips for Shy Writers
Feeling shy is natural for many of us. And it isn't anything to be ashamed of. But shyness can seem hard to overcome when we network with people we've never met, or stand at the podium and read our work to others. More than that, once your book is published, by either an established publisher or your own self, you will need to meet people, if you want to sell lots of copies. (All those who think "I'll get a big publisher and they will arrange the marketing for me," it doesn't tend to work that way today.) So how can you brave the occasions when you need to get yourself out there? Whether networking at an event, or on social media, or reading your work in public, here are a few tips from one shy author to another, along with a few stellar quotes:
1. “So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them," wrote Sylvia Plath. This is a great piece of advice and it works in both directions. When you meet others, remember that you can focus on who they are, for at least some of the time, letting them "unfold quite wonderfully." People who ask questions in an interested way have a tendency, says psychology, to be more liked -- and I can see why. What's more, once you are concentrating on how interesting the folks you meet can be, you might find that grow less self-conscious, and more intrigued by social occasions, be they online or in person.
2. "You are what you love, not what loves you. That's what I decided a long time ago," says Donald Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) in the film, Adaptation. Many of us are shy because we don't want to cause offense. We fear tripping up or "saying the wrong thing." It has helped me a great deal to stop focusing on what others think of me, and instead, to start thinking about what I like about them. Not only does this stop me from being so self-conscious and self-controlling -- it also allows me to enjoy the new folks I encounter, without worrying about how I come across. After all, as long as I am loving the world, I am doing my best. And I'm also living in an authentic way.
3. "If the sign on your heart says 'Welcome' the love will come pouring in from everywhere," wrote Susan Jeffers. Learning this was especially powerful for me. It helped me to get out there, especially under my pen name where I need to network and meet others. The truth is, you don't have to be impressive or smart or witty or political or intelligent to network well. When you want to connect with someone, all you need to be is welcoming. This can mean asking questions and listening fully to the answers, or sharing sincerely, or building on a conversation. Here's how i see it: by concentrating on welcoming others into our space (while still holding strong to boundaries and values, of course) we can let go of our overly critical inner voice. And the results can be quite transformative!
4. "That love for your story as you read from it and talk about it is what makes all those lights of connection go off in a reader’s head that mean not only do they feel they must have this book, but they must read it and they must tell everyone they know about it," wrote Jennifer Penn. When it comes to presenting or talking about your writing, all you need to be interesting, in my mind, is your passion. If you can connect with love for the work -- and concentrate on that -- the passion will be communicated. In other words, my tip is to focus on your feelings, your passion. You don't have to be blazingly original or cuttingly smart or powerfully witty. You just need to communicate your love for that project, those words, this craft.
5. "More than kisses, letters mingle souls," wrote John Donne. As a writer, you may well enjoy writing letters or emails. Well, social media isn't so different, in truth. I used to be shy of social media, but, under my pen name, I now use it many times a day. And I love it! I do use social media to spread my own news, but I also know that connecting isn't about what I know or do. Twitter is the place where I say, 'Hi! How was your morning?' or 'That's a great article. I totally agree about X and Y." In fact, as someone who is shy, you might well find that you're a natural at social media -- because it's the people who can't stop talking about themselves who tend to find Twitter puzzling, and it's those who can say, "How are you?" or "I loved your story!" that tend to build community easily.
Do any of these tips work for you? Or do you have other tips that might work for fellow writers who are shy of networking and presenting their work? Please share below. I look forward to reading your comments!
And if you're considering indie publishing, but need to build confidence in terms of publicity, networking, etc., check out our one-night seminar this summer at Grub Street. Looking forward to it!
Photo credit: Rachel Green via Wikimedia Commons
Sue Williams is co-founder of Here Booky Booky (herebookybooky.com) where authors' works are made into beautiful books. With a background in psychology, education, and online marketing, she is an instructor and confidence coach at Grub Street and has published her short stories at a variety of magazines and journals including Narrative (where she also worked as an editor), Salamander, the Yalobusha Review, and elsewhere. Under her pen name, Sue is agented, has published a novel and several collections, writes columns on sexuality and spirituality, and also runs an indie press. As Sue, she works as a marketing assistant for branding and marketing expert Dorie Clark, and also coaches writers who are looking to build their confidence and platforms. Find out more at www.herebookybooky.com and www.suewilliams.co.ukSee other articles by Susan Williams