First I want to announce the winner of a free copy of Guy Kawasaki's ebook APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur:
Congratulations, Patricia! Please email me at email@example.com, so I can send you your ebook.
Last night in my Blogging for Beginners class at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto, a student declared that she doesn't feel comfortable putting her photo on her blog, something I strongly encourage all my students to do. People want to know what the blogger they're following looks like, and the more professional the photo, the better.
But my student is an introvert, like so many writers are. That's why we become writers—because we're not comfortable expressing ourselves out loud.
When I was a kid, I was shy. With my close friends I could be myself—goofy, silly, and talkative—but around strangers, I hid behind my mother's legs. I sat in the back of the class at school and, although I was a straight-A student, I rarely raised my hand for fear that I wouldn't sound articulate. I was hyper-self-conscious about the way I looked, moved, and spoke. I remember the first time I attended a school dance. I had no idea how to dance, so I stood in a circle with my friends and moved back and forth, probably snapping my fingers. It was terrifying, but it also felt good to dance, and I slowly got the hang of it. When I saw my friend Shannin showing off all her moves to the boys across the room, I made it my goal to become less shy. I took a blank sheet of paper and drew a fat exclamation point on it and colored it yellow. Yellow was my favorite color—the color of dandelions and the sun, of lemonade and smiley faces. I taped that paper to the middle of my bedroom wall where I'd see it every morning when I woke up. It was my secret reminder to take more risks and be more outgoing. I wanted to be more !, more extroverted.
Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, has changed the way we view introverts, which is wonderful. Meanwhile, we have books to promote and readings to give, and those can be difficult tasks for writers. Self-promotion can feel like hell. I'm no expert at being extroverted, but here are a few things that have helped me feel more comfortable putting myself "out there":
1. Take risks
By taking a risk in another area of your life, you'll build confidence to take risks in your writing/publishing/social media life. Back in the late 90s, when I was living in Los Angeles, I took an acting class. I had never been a good actor because I was shy, but I was a fashion model at the time and thought acting classes could help me book TV commercials. Then one week I decided to go skydiving. Rather than do a tandem jump, I signed up for the all-day course to learn to jump on my own. And I did it. In fact, I felt on top of the world, like I could accomplish anything, after that. That week I had to perform a scene in my acting class. I walked in and looked at the audience (my class), and thought, "I just risked my life. What's the worst that could happen in this room? Someone may laugh at me?" I had no more fear or acting. I nailed the scene and my teacher invited me to join his advanced class. But you don't have to go skydiving to get over your fear of promoting yourself on Facebook. You can think of other ways to push your boundaries. Is there something you've always wanted to try but haven't out of fear? Do that thing! Confront a friend, writing a letter to your state senator, jump off a high dive. Do something that scares you, and you will become more confident in all areas of your life.
Because I'm an introvert (really, I am), I'm not comfortable improvising. If I have to get up on stage to do a reading, I rehearse that reading. I read the piece many times out loud, timing myself to make sure it isn't too long and listening for lines that could be cut. Ideally, I read it in front of someone else to get feedback and to see which parts get laughs, so I know when to slow down or pause. By the time I get on stage, I'm confident and comfortable and ready to have some fun. This goes for filming video blog posts, too. Do your hair, prepare what you're going to say, and then film it over and over again until you have a take you're comfortable posting. Each post will get easier and, before you know it, you'll be streaming live.
3. Just do it
Here's a confession. I have an email newsletter. I've only sent it out three times so far because I have so much anxiety about it. I worry that people will be annoyed at the "spam" and unsubscribe or, worse yet, just roll their eyes when they hear my name and whisper to each other, "She's such a self-promoter." I worry that I'll send it with a typo, and people will send me nasty emails telling me I have no business editing books. But every few months I JUST DO IT. I write my newsletter, I proofread it ten times for typos, then I hold my breath and click SEND. And you know what happens? I get emails from old friends saying, "Go Meghan!" and "So good to hear from you! How are you?" No eye rolling, no nasty emails, just positive support. Who knew?
4. Read Susan Cains's Quiet
This is on my own To Do list. Any book that hails the power of introverts is a book writers need to read. Let's stop beating ourselves up for being crappy promoters and learn to value our true strengths. We have the power to change the world through our writing. We are creative and insightful and great listeners. Let's harness that power and put it to good use.
5. Consider starting a Lean In circle
I haven't read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In yet, but I was inspired by her talk at the BlogHer '13 conference. "What do you fear?" she asked. "No go out and do that thing." The Lean In website provides guidelines on how to start a circle of like-minded peers to support you in your goals. It's worth checking out.
What about you? What tricks have you found help you get over your fears of public speaking and social media? Deep breathing? Yoga? Meditation? I'd love to hear your experiences!