So this weekend I slew the dragon. I tamed the beast. I spit in the face of fear, vanquished a mortal enemy and used a bunch of metaphoric clichés along the way . . . Okay, maybe I exaggerate a wee bit but I did, in fact, pluck up what little courage I have, stifle the crybaby inside and do what I’ve spent a lifetime trying to avoid.
Of what calamitous happening do I speak? Well, I . . . spoke. In public. In front of strangers. Into a microphone. While being videoed! My heart stutters at the memory and cold, slick sweat slithers out of my pores and smothers my body with its sleek stickiness.
If you aren’t shivering in your boots by now, then I guess you don’t suffer from the debilitating condition known as Speaking-in-public-itis. I managed to get through college without once having to present a paper or give a speech or otherwise be forced to stand in front of steely-eyed, judgmental, nightmare-inducing ogres― otherwise known as my fellow students― and talk, out loud, about whatever arbitrary subject the sadistic tyrant (i.e. professor) flung at me. By design, I don’t work at a job that would put me in a position to have to expound on anything in any sort of public arena. I was finally secure in the belief that I would never have to worry about hurdling this obstacle to my mental well-being ever again.
That was before I decided to be a writer. As you scratch your head wondering what being a writer has to do with facing down an edgy crowd with nothing between you and them but air and possibly a flimsy podium with a squeaky microphone then let me enlighten you.
Writers, by definition, are solitary folks. We like to write. Alone. In quiet corners. Alone. With nothing but our thoughts and writing implements. Alone. Did I mention writers write alone? With no one around? Well, we do. This was all fine and dandy in the pre-internet age when readers just wanted to read what writers wrote. Oh sure, there was the occasional book tour if one got really famous or lucky and one’s publisher would make all the arrangements and said writer just had to show up and sign stuff. Now, that perfectly good symbiotic relationship has vanished. Now, writers need to have a marketing plan fully delineated before even submitting to a publisher and― save us oh Lord from the horror! ―we have to self-promote! This means we need to speak. In public. In front of strangers. We need websites and Facebook and Twitter and blogs. We need a brand and a thirty second elevator pitch and we have to schmooze and network and talk and talk and talk! If I wanted to be a talker, I’d be a politician or a lawyer or a product spokesperson on late night cable!
As I slam back some St. John’s Wort and chamomile tea in a futile attempt to calm my nerves, I realize I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, not to mention using more of those annoying metaphoric clichés. I have to remind myself that I really did, with remarkably little intestinal distress, get up in front of 25ish or so people, granted, mostly fellow writers who are totally understanding and kind, and read an excerpt of my short story just published in the Lake Region Review (Number 3). I did, with an unshaking voice, answer a few questions about myself and the story. I did, happily and feeling rather proud of myself, smile and look right into people’s eyes as we exchanged words. Out loud.
I guess this talking in public thing isn’t so bad. If and when I have to do it again, at least I can take comfort in the fact that I did not faint, die, stutter, stammer or throw up on anyone’s shoes. As a writer, it doesn’t get any better than that. . .