• Julie Luek
  • [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

    Daya, your book sounds amazing and like it is really going to touch lives. Wow-- kudos and congratulations to you for your courage. I'll be cheering you on. 

  • Daya Wakens

    Julie, I can completely relate.  I am selective in revealing my novel that has been work in progress. I only tell certain individuals that are aware of some events that occurred in my path and I tell them that my novel is my personal project. My local writer's group, CNY Writers Haven, critiqued the introduction which is a powerful summary and all of our emotions surfaced. That was very difficult for me to present, but my group's critique helped me tremendously.  With that, they cannot wait to read my novel. It will be women's fiction based on a true story. I  write from my heart with passion for myself with hope that others can feel it and when that happens, it's a bonus!

  • Ester Benjamin Shifren

    Thanks so much for your comment. I speak a lot about this subject on panels and try very hard to help people because many seem to have the problem. Perhaps having been on stage in shows, one way or another since childhood, has made it so much easier. You could practice videoing yourself speaking, just doing it over and over will show you how much you're improving with each "production." Who knows—in time you may may like it enough for people to wish you would stop! Welcome that affliction!

  • Julie Luek

    Ester you are an inspiration!

  • Ester Benjamin Shifren

    I absolutely love it when someone asks me about my book. I find it so easy to speak about it that this is so foreign and I'm very sorry to hear that people struggle with such a natural thing. I spoke publicly about my subject for many years before I had a book so it became easier and easier as time wore on. One needs to know a subject very well to feel comfortable with it, so one of the things to do to help one along is to practice speaking and answering aloud over and over, as if someone's asking you questions. Be prepared to answer questions people ask, and to promote yourself in a nice way without being in their face, so to speak. Good luck and I hope that you can work on this until you feel as comfortable as I do because that's when you'll enjoy it the most.

  • Julie Luek

    Karoline-- I want to buy you pom poms. You are a fantastic cheerleader!

  • Karoline Barrett

    Thank you, Julie!  You can do it!!! Just do a little at a time and pretty soon you'll love it!!

  • Julie Luek

    Susan--I agree-- blogging is a great venue for me too. I have links up from my page to all my pieces. I face the fear. But I still have it! I like the way you introduce your pieces. 

    Cynthia, Bam-- I think that's it for me too. I have no problems telling people I contribute to She Writes, Joyful Home and Life and am a co-editor of RMFW.org, but my own stuff? I'm with you!

    Margaret- I bet with poetry especially, it's very gratifying to get feedback about how it speaks to their heart, specifically. 

  • Margaret L. Netherby

    Years ago I published newsletters and got used to discussing them.  It wasn't really about me.  Now I have a new book of poetry.  At first I dreaded feedback.  It felt like writing class and I was everyone's target.  I'm really surprised, though. The comments are so much better than I expected and I'm encouraged.  Now it's fun to hear what others heard in what I said. 

  • Cynthia Close

    I'm not sure if it's gender thing, but when I have a formal title; Executive Director, Contributing Editor, Contributing writer, etc...I can point to the "GoodHousekeeping seal of approval" that has clearly been bestowed on me by others. When I stand there, naked (psychologically) in a crowd, and declare I am a writer, read me, that is a barrier I've yet to cross.

  • Susan Troccolo

    I think it works to have three or four of your favorite pieces ready. I decided to even link to those on the About Me section of my blog with the sentence: "...so how will you know if my offbeat quirky style is for you? Well, here are a few samples..." These need to be polished pieces, usually published in other venues too! That helps with the confidence part. I had a great little book of essays that I'm trying to re-issue into an ebook and I just tell folks that I usually don't talk about works in progress, but that maybe, just maybe they can find an odd book here and there on Amazon. Basically, I think we've got to be honest. We are trying our best to put out our creative selves, and at the same time, protect something that's not ready for prime time. People appreciate honesty and they know how hard it can be to make a go of it. BTW, I think blogging is GREAT. It makes it much more relaxing and fun to write.

  • Suzanne Hoffman

    Hey Julie, we love what we do, so there is no shame in taking delight in discussing it.  I so much enjoy talking about my wine families, chefs, etc., than all the caca that went with practicing law.  And people are much more interested in these subjects, too. 

    You were spot on with your comment about not taking ourselves too seriously.  In any walk of life, that's an abyss that should be avoided at all costs. 

    Love your blog.

  • Julie Luek

    Susan, I think you nailed it exactly though. And in this market, we MUST be willing to promote our work.  As you said, no one is going to do it for us. 

    Suzanne, so true. I balance between rejoicing in I Am A Writer and not taking that label (or myself) too seriously. Your balance is perfect!

  • Suzanne Hoffman

    I love it!  I love my "Ladies of Piemonte" in my book I'm writing, my weekly column is a hoot and my blogs are well-received.  I find it a very important part of being an uber-networker and by freely engaging - not boring (I hope) - people in conversation about my writing has opened a few doors.  Ok, not all the way, but I'm pushing my way through them.

      It was hard at first because I felt like I wasn't a "real" writer, but after 112 published articles and a few magazine pieces in less than 2 years, I guess I should start feeling comfortable with the moniker. 

  • Susan J Slack

    I had to learn to get over lack of self promotion decades ago. I'm comfortable with talking in front of groups (retired teaching and performing artist) but before a big concert I would always expect the promoter to do that sort of thing. Guess what! Depending on someone else to do it got mixed results. If I wanted people to show up so I would be hired for another gig, I needed to let them know. It wasn't about ego (or maybe a little) but mostly about me being a single mother and I needed to bring in enough money to put food on the table for my son. Then it was a different interaction. I consciously taught myself that I wasn't selling/promotion ME. I had no expectations that they would be my BFF and I would have them over for dinner. I was promoting my work. I often thought of it as selling 'soap'. It is fine soap. It will clean your clothes, etc. I got so good at it that I actually grew tired of seeing articles about myself. People would assume that it was just because the reporters liked my work. Actually after receiving sooo many press releases and lovely photos for their newspapers, I made it very easy for them to write about me. Of course it is different now. Online stuff freaks me out, but when my book comes back from the editor, I will learn how to be persistent in this new way. My beautiful grown up son just bought a laptop for me for Christmas to make it easier. See?  Mutual backscratching after only 30 years!

  • Julie Luek

    Oh and how interesting that today in She Writes email they advertised a course called The Spotlight Crash Course. http://kriscarr.com/spotlight-learn-more/!

  • Julie Luek

    Marybeth-- I had fun poking fun at myself a little here. But yes, I need to develop that one-liner though and look at it, as Kelly suggested, as polite conversation. 

  • Marybeth Holleman

    Great post, Julie. I feel the same way - hate to talk about it. I try to come up with a good one-liner about my current project to answer that, so, what are you working on now? But it's hard, unless the other person is also a writer. Then they know better to even ask that question!

  • Julie Luek

    Patricia, you know the funny thing, as I commented below, in my "teaching role" I'm actually all right. It's still not my comfort zone but I've learned to "fake it until I make it". But somehow that conversation, with everyone looking at me, put me on the spot. Good for you for letting your passion lead over your fears!

  • Julie Luek

    Kelly-- and THAT would make a great post. Well said!

    Hi Rebecca-- I need to work on that polished answer, perhaps. Good idea!

    Lynette-- OK too funny. I too have a bunch of cards and always forget to have them with me or give them out. It just never occurs to me. We need to write down that quote Kelly gave us in her comments and memorize it!

  • Julie Luek

    Olga, I may feel better about it IF I had a book! We'll see if I follow through with it. But hurrah for you for your reading!

    Cynthia-- You make a good distinction. Maybe it is because I write essays, so it's usually personal stuff. Hmm-- good point. 

    Bobbi-- Practice does help. Like you, I actually teach a college class, am a facilitator for MBTI workshops and have led workshops for years at the college. I learned the skill-- when I'm teaching. I think it's that on-the-spot stuff that garbles my thinking. So yes, see you at the bar! ;)

  • Patricia Robertson

    Over thirty years in ministry has helped me be comfortable in different settings. When I first preached on a Sunday, I would go into hiding the next day, sure that some catastrophe would happen because I had said something wrong. Nothing happened, the world continued to revolve - not around me - and slowly over time I became more comfortable speaking in front of groups. This coming from an extreme introvert who while in high school would cross the street in order to avoid talking to someone. If I can do it, so can you!

  • Lynette Willows

    I can relate to this. I'm a horrible self-promoter. I prefer they simply focus on my book and leave me out of it. About the only place i'm comfortable discussing myself is in my writing group. I once got myself 250 business cards. I still have about 249 left; the one went to my mother, because she wanted to show all her friends. 

  • Rebecca M. Douglass

    I've been in a lot of social situations lately where I'm chatting with stranger, and the "what do you do?" question naturally comes up. With practice I'm getting better at saying "I'm a writer" without then conditioning it in any self-deprecating way. I am even gradually polishing the answer to "what do you write?". It isn't easy. I feel like it's self-promotion, but hey, they asked. I've even managed to bring the subject up on a couple of occasions where the conversation warrented it, and given people my cards. This stuff is HARD! I don't mind addressing large rooms full of people, but I freak out at one-on-one or small group chat with strangers.

  • I get so frustrated hearing writers talk about the perils of "self-promotion."  If I meet a teacher at a party, I ask him:  "What subject do you teach?  What grade level?  What excites you about the students?"  If I meet a lawyer, I ask her:  "What type of law do you practice?  Did you have a case recently that you were proud of?"  I don't consider their answers self-promotion. We're at a social gathering.  We're being polite.  But, it also reflects my true curiosity about people and what makes them tick.

    So, if they reciprocate curiosity or politeness and ask me what I write, I don't consider my response self-promotion;  I consider it conversation.  "Thanks for asking!" I respond.  "I'm writing a journalistic memoir about my recovery from a mid-life loss by working in the Middle East with Iraqi refugees."  (...said as if those words popped into my head in that very moment.)

    I take my next cues from their response.  If their eyes glaze over, I change the subject:  "Great bean dip, eh?"  If they light up with:  "The Middle East?  I've always wanted to go there!", we move into a conversation about travel and culture.  If they respond with:  "I've always wanted to write a book!", I ask, "What do you want to write about?"

    From there, I can turn almost any sincere engagement into securing their email address where I can follow-up.  "Hey, I have a special list of friends and family I email every few months about my travels and book...And I will offer these folks a special pre-publication discount.  Would you like me to add you?"  If our conversation has been interesting -- meaning, if the other person has found me interesting and engaging -- he or she will likely want to stay in touch.

    I am passionate about what I am writing -- and people respond to passion wherever they find it.  Shame on anyone, in any profession or endeavor, who is embarrassed by that passion. The world needs more more of you -- not less!   Reminds me of Marianne Williamson's quote from A Return to Love:

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

    OK, off my soapbox.  I'm gonna go "shine" on my porch and polish my next chapter and pray I'll never get to the day where people don't ask me about my writing!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt


    Mosey on over to my web site for a free download of me reading my book's first chapter -- about a beggar I met in pre-invasion Iraq!