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  • [Making the Leap] Can I NOT Have Your Attention, Please?
[Making the Leap] Can I NOT Have Your Attention, Please?
Written by
Julie Luek
December 2013
Written by
Julie Luek
December 2013

I’m awkward in groups. When faced with a crowd of people I don’t know well or a situation outside my familiar comfort zone, I get all squirmy inside. I truly am an introvert.

So the other day, while at a welcome-home get-together for a friend and her partner who have been wandering the world (you can follow their adventures here), I was wading deep in the muck of my discomfort. I gulped wine hoping it would work its soothing magic and loosen my mental and verbal constipation so I could converse beyond monosyllabic grunts.

A slight drizzle started to fall, and I sought shelter beneath a tent along with a dozen other people. I knew most of them to some extent; they were former colleagues at the university where I had worked. But there were several I didn't know. Suddenly, someone (I don’t even remember who) brought up the fact that I’m writing these days. You know how this goes. People, usually those who have no idea what it’s really like to be a writer, look at you differently and possibly act impressed. “Oh that’s so cool… I’ve always wanted to be a writer…. What’s that like?” And my favorite, “What have you written?”

By now I was cringing and sweating a bit. Everyone was looking at me. “It’s a lot of fun,” I said, “if you don’t mind not making a living.” Everyone laughed.

No really, I wanted to reiterate, that’s the God’s honest truth.

I told them I contribute to a couple of sites and write a couple of blogs, publish here and there and hope to eventually work on a bigger project. I hoped my vague answer would soothe their curiosity and we could move the spotlight on to someone else, like the woman standing beside me in whose honor this party was being held.

But no.

Someone whipped out their smart phone and asked for my blog address. Oh my gosh, I felt a coronary malfunction coming on. But they all stared at me expectantly. I muttered the address and the person holding their phone pulled up my blog. I briefly wondered how far I could punt the little gadget. These people are college professors, for heaven’s sake. I felt the bile rise. Then, the most horrid thing of all happened: the phone owner started to read an entry aloud.

This must be stopped. “No, no, don’t read it aloud here,” I pleaded, and fortunately they had mercy on me and quit.

What? Why did they stop so readily? Did they realize how awful it was? Did it sound really stupid?

Apparently I can’t be appeased.

But as I stood there, praying to God and any divinity persona that gave a crap, that the weather would ease up and release me, I started thinking about how I really need to be more assertive and confident, how I should be able to talk about my work, and that this was really an opportunity to expand my audience, perhaps find new readers.

The librarian at the university looked at me and asked, “Julie, would you like to give a talk and maybe do some readings for our Friends of the Library event sometime?”  I wanted to throw up again. Good heavens, that’s for real writers, not someone like me.

“Sure,” I said hoping my words didn't sound like the dry grit they felt like in my mouth. “I’d be honored.”

I really must do something about that blurting, freak personality inside me.

So how do you handle the on-the-spot conversation about your book or your unfinished manuscript? Do you look forward to opportunities to talk about your writing, or like me, do you grab for the wine and hope no one notices the slurring?

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  • Julie Luek

    I agree- the comments have been wonderful! So helpful. 

  • Dana Alexander Writing

    Thanks, Julie.  Very glad you put this post out.  So many of us experience such things and it's great to have the comments come together on this topic.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Dana-- great thoughts. I like your perspective. 

  • Dana Alexander Writing

    Great post, Julie.

    I too, like so many others, have been in that awkward situation primarily because I've always defined myself by the work I do rather than the writing.  But it's the writing I'm most passionate about. I've found if I'm asked about my writing and provide some details, rather than pulling back into the comfy quiet zone, the response is well-received and there is a sincere interest by most. At times, I'll even get the encouragement to follow that passion more vigorously.  This has given me the push I needed to drop the apprehension of discussing my series and the confidence to speak about it.

      I've put a bucket load of creative effort and time into work I love and am satisfied with to put out to the public (soon). And with any luck, that work will provide a story good enough for someone else to read and love as well. I don't care about the money, but that it's a good piece of work that is well-written and delivers on what the reader wants to escape to.  If the audience I'm answering doesn't get that (and I don't expect them to) but does see the passion we writers have for our stories, that's just one more item to help me forge ahead.

    P.S. Like your comment Veronica  :)

  • Julie Luek

    Nancy-- I am in process of identifying and developing that "rope" you speak about-- the why and purpose of my writing. I can see how knowing and naming that could really put you at ease and give you a handle in conversation. Congratulations on all you are doing. 

  • Nancy G. Shapiro

    Hi Julie. As a fellow introvert, your blog made me shake/quake with recognition. I've finally come to a steadier, less freaked-out conversational stance about my writing by writing to myself about the "why" of my writing, all of it—my blog, poems, the e-book Brooke Warner urged me to publish in September, and the perpetually-in-progress "larger work" that the e-book comes from. My "why" is a thread that runs through everything I write, and that thread has turned into a nice thick rope that supports me when someone "Oh you're writing a book! What's it about?" 

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Marie-- thanks for the encouragement. Maybe we will both heed some of the great advice in the comments and be more bold, courageous and confident about our writing! I'm glad your heart understands, though. 

  • Marie Bailey

    I am such an introvert that I probably would have slinked away from the party before anyone noticed me :)  Even with close friends, I get tongue-tied when talking about my writing.  When it's just between me and my blog and my online friends, I'm fine.  I can write up a storm about my writing.  But face-to-face encounters leave me speechless.  And if I manage to say something intelligent, I then see that glazed-over look in their eyes ... or at least I think I see it and then I just clam up.  I do not look forward to marketing my work ... beyond writing about it, that is :)

    By the way, your post was so fun to read and I hope you do give some readings and talks.  It's a spotlight you shouldn't pass up.

  • Julie Luek

    Andrea-- by golly, I think you're on to something! 

  • Andrea Miles

    I really hate talking about myself - I think I got 0 extrovert impulses and 100 introvert - so I will really struggle with having to sell my book when the time comes. In fact, I kind a wish I could just hire someone to be the public me!

  • Julie Luek

    Veronica, just from reading your enthusiastic response, I have a feeling you will be your book's best marketing friend! With a friendly, contagious attitude like yours, you can't go wrong. 

  • Wonderful essay!  I don't mind those 'on-the-spot' conversations.  Mama raised me to be strong, courageous and confident.  Maybe that's why I am so at ease. 

    "It's a lot of fun if you don't mind not making a living."  You know... I have said those exact words when people ask me about my writing.  I will, at the drop of a hat, talk about my writing... I am not shy at all and love when people show a genuine interest in writing, mine or other writers.  My favorite questions are "How did you come up with the idea for your story?  What inspired you?"  I love to share that.  I want people to see that there is a whole world right before their eyes... all they have to do is 'see' it... see it with their hearts and imaginations.  We all have both and it's alarming how little some people use either.

    I have, counting this year's NaNoWriMo first draft, three novels - a memoir and two noir fiction - in progress.  I have written a ton of flash fiction, blog posts about my writing and my relationships, and been published in six anthologies.  Several of the anthologies were for charity - I am a sucker for a charity anthology; I can't say 'no'.

     To date, I have earned not one cent!  And that is okay.  I don't write to put bread on the table.  I write  because I can't not write.  I write because writing feeds my soul.  I write for a hundred different reasons and none of them are about money.  I write because I am a survivor!

    I write because the whole process fascinates me and I want to share that.  I want people to get excited about writing... and reading.  Because, you cannot write if you won't read!

    And because I write, I talk about my writing.  Oh, who are we kidding?  I talk because I like to talk.  Talking is how you learn about people.  I have always done well in a classroom or a small group of people.  Not so well in front of large groups... not sure why.  Maybe it's the thought of imagining ALL those people in their underwear.... *shivers*

    Of course, it may be completely different once I actually sell a book.  I could go into panic mode.

    But then... that's what the wine is for... right?  :)

  • Julie Luek

    Donna-- Indeed. :)

    Terra, Thanks-- and I'm so glad you are finding your ease and fun! I'm old enough.... you'd think I'd get there. ;)

  • Terra Trevor Publishing

    Good article. I relate. And like Elizabeth, I enjoy talking about writing (mine, and others') but I've been desperately uncomfortable following the release of a book when I've felt the pressure to sell. I'm finding that age and time is giving me what I've always longed for - I'm beginning to be able to let go and have fun and not worry about selling or what people think. Love this article! Great topic. 

  • Donna Jean McDunn

    I can SO relate! But I have improved, just keep working at it.

  • Julie Luek

    I'm loving this conversation-- I wrote this piece kind of tongue-in-cheek, but the responses really have been very thoughtful and helpful. Kudos to the She Writes community. I love us. 

  • Elizabeth Wrenn

    One more thought: I find I most enjoy talking about writing (mine, and others') when I have nothing to sell. As in now. (Both my books are OP in U.S.) So, it's about passion, not advertising. I must soon find a way to not have it be an either/or.

  • Daya Wakens

    Elizabeth, I love your classy diversion method. I am an extrovert and never had an issue with public speaking....at least not with conducting safety training in front of 300 construction men. But then again, any female speaking in front of construction men, there is no lack of attention. In regards to my writing, I tend to be cautious. Yet, I know writers that are the opposite...introverted personalities, yet extroverted in their writing world. I find this intriguing.

  • Julie Luek

    Hi Dawn, first, I love the sound of your book and am going to look it up right now. Second, I don't have a book published-- I am a freelance writer, and have essays in anthologies and magazine articles published. And maybe that's part of my stumbling block-- I feel like people expect me to talk about a book, which isn't in the works at least for now. You know the funny thing is I teach a College-to-Career class at the college and teach the students to have an elevator speech prepared, which I do, but not always about my specific works, more about my writing career in general. I need to apply it more specifically, perhaps. But I had fun poking fun at myself in this post. ;)

  • Dawn Downey

    A writing teacher told me to write an elevator speech. A very short! script and then memorize it. Here's what I say "I've written a book of essays. It's called Stumbling Toward the Buddha: Stories about Tripping over my Principles on the Road to Transformation. My friends tell me it's a cross between Anne Lamott and Nora Ephron." Then I discovered that my hands need something to do. So now my next step is going to be making a prop, maybe a book mark or post card thingy with the cover image. I'm going to stick one (well, probably a million) in my purse and hand it to anyone who asks about my writing. I really relate to "it's a lot of fun if you don't mind not making a living." Sounds like something I would say, too. What a great post! What's the name of your book?

  • Rebecca M. Douglass

    It also helps if you have something out--I talk about what I've published, and don't say so much about the WIP. Well, and I am also pretty happy to talk about the ones that are getting close to publication. I just think I need to work on my two-sentence summaries. If asked what I'm doing right then, I give a quick mention, "oh, I'm working on the second PTA murder novel. The first will be out early next year."

  • Julie Luek

    Elizabeth-- You have stated the conflict so very well! Like you, I think I can good at it (I have enough public speaking in my background) but it will never be within my introverted comfort zone. I think your preformed answer is very good! 

  • Elizabeth Wrenn

    Ohhh Julie! I could write a book on this topic alone! Writing may require the weirdest mix of introvert/extrovert abilities and proclivities of any profession. We must be introverts--nay, hermits!--to be successful at the first part of our job, and must be extroverts--nay, shameless self-promoters--to be successful at the 2nd part of our jobs. Yikes! Very few are very good at both. I know many published fiction authors (myself included) who became much more *introverted* AFTER getting mainstream pubbed. Weird, but true. Going from cloistered to "The Naked Parade of Promotion", where you are expected to be "on" 24/7, is uncomfortable at best for me. And before I was pubbed, I thought that would be the part I'd enjoy the MOST. I was good at it, but I felt like I lost touch with me in the process, somehow. I wonder if it isn't harder for those of us who write fiction since we live in make-believe worlds when we are writing. Don't know. Here's my current M.O. at parties and such: I explain somewhat sheepishly that I never talk about works in progress because, for me, it's a case of it's either out of my mouth OR out of my fingers and onto the page, so I need to leave the wind in the sails of the latter. Regarding the extrovert part: I now try to remind myself that 1) writing is my forte, 2) it is interesting to me, 3) brief is best. So, I breathe, smile, and silently repeat my mantra of "be enthusiastic, not extravagant" in my answer. (It's true that, no matter how well-intentioned, people rarely want to hear more than your well-honed elevator pitch.) I find it also helps to end with my own question related to my topic. E.g.: "My novel is about a woman in the doldrums of marriage and parenting who spontaneously volunteers to raise a service dog puppy, then learns some hard but liberating truths about unconditional love." Then I breathe again, and ask, "Do you own a dog?" Most people are then off and running about their own dogs, and lives, and I'm off the hook. :)

  • Diane McElwain

    It seems many writers are introverts!

  • Daya Wakens

    Thank you so much Julie! I see many courageous women right here at Sw and love it!