#1 Fear Banished

098Among my many phobias, I’ve conquered only one. But it’s a biggie. The #1 ranked fear shared by so many: fear of public speaking. I hated presenting in college and high school, suffered through speech classes, shuddered to even introduce myself in a group.

That’s why I’m a writer. I work alone, communicate easily online, love my blog, am addicted to Twitter. The first time I walked into a classroom and realized that I had to actually talk to these people, I wanted to turn around and run back out. What was I thinking?

I was thinking a degree or two in English would be fun: lots of reading and writing, my favorite things. And I could teach, which to me seemed like discussing exactly what I loved. Ha. I was in denial about the “talking” part, and to this day I work really hard to get my students to do most of the talking in class.

xmas 09 001When I published my first book in 2007, I realized I needed to promote it at least a little bit. I had 1,000 copies in my closet that were not going to move themselves.

I arranged to give a two-part talk at my local library, and I only got through it because I took a pill that many actors and musicians use to stop the fear of public performance. I felt energized on that stage with a room full of people who had come to hear me. This was a very different audience from a room full of teenagers forced to read poetry and novels. I liked those talks and wished I could feel that way without meds.

Duty done, I went back to routinely refusing all offers to speak about my books. I read one poem at a writer’s function, because it won a prize and they paid me. When the hostess asked me to read the longer piece, which had also won, I declined. The poem was hard enough!

Just last week I was invited to read a poem or short bit of prose with a group of writers and I declined, automatically. And then I remembered: I wasn’t afraid to speak in pubic anymore. Magically, that fear had evaporated.

It happened at a workshop called “Public Speaking for Writers” facilitated by The Write Concept‘s Linda Anger (pronounced Ahn-Jay). Sounded like something I needed, so I signed on. Right away she had us warming up with partners in preparation to speak in front of the group. I am fine one-on-one but was dreading the going to the front of the room and claiming the floor part.

I walked to my doom, clutching the notes I’d taken. And suddenly, something lifted. I felt it. I was as comfortable as if I were in the last weeks of a semester with a great, engaged class. I was having fun. I loved it.

So, maybe teaching for many years helped, maybe Linda has some kind of magic not in pill form, probably both. I don’t think it was a coincidence that my life-long fear of public speaking vanished at the moment I stood in front of Linda’s DWW workshop. I think, between the two of us, we banished it.

Empty Seats & Other Fears


The first time I walked into a classroom and realized that my job was to talk to these teens, every cell in my body wanted to run from the room and never return. And things stayed that way for a few years. Every day, I wanted to flee home to my writing room. Every day I did the harder thing. I taught those kids.

That was 1990. This is now. I handle English classes with ease, but any other type of public speaking makes me wish I’d popped a Xanax. Which brings me to next week and the dozen or so peers who I’ll be helping navigate the social media world. I’m no expert, but my love of Twitter has compelled me to learn its landscape.

Once again, for the love of language, I am putting myself in a place of massive personal discomfort. I’m not alone in my fear of the podium. More people fear public speaking than dying. This did not surprise me when facilitator Linda Anger said it yesterday in her public speaking workshop. I took the DWW workshop because I want to banish this fear.

As a writer who is trying to market her own novels, public speaking could be a big wand in my magic bag of tricks. I did it with my first book, back in 2007. Twice. To an audience who was way more interested in what I had to say that my students ever were. But my first book was non-fiction, about writing. My audience was hungry for answers. I filled the seats both nights, they all bought my book, they had questions galore. In other words, a dream audience.

Since then, I’ve published four novels. I did not line up any coffee shop/bookstore/library readings. Not a one. I’ve read so many horror stories about bookstore signing where one person shows up, only to ask where the restroom is located. Yesterday, Linda asked those of us in the workshop why we were afraid. My reason was easy: boring others. I teach English to jaded freshman college students who do a lot of covert texting and not quite so sly eye-rolling.

I fear boring you. I fear being judged. I fear you will judge me boring. I hide behind my blog and Twitter and call it marketing. My husband comes home from work and asks what I did all day. “Well, I wrote for a bit, then I did some marketing.” In fact, Twitter is not marketing for me.  I like making connections with writers and readers and other people, exploring links, trying to squeeze a cogent thought (plus a hash tag)  into 140 characters.

As for this blog, I’ve always kept a diary. All my life since the time I could write. And this blog is actually my diary. I write it for the same reason I write everything, to make sense of my place in the world. Every novel is a life I didn’t lead. I travel far and wide in my imagination, but I don’t leave the desk for marketing.

Real marketing includes hitting the streets of the real world. And after the helpful and fun workshop yesterday, I feel more prepared to do this. At some point in the future. If I don’t die first.