by Jerry Waxler
Many writers are comfortable alone at their desk but nervous about going public. This anxiety can be used as fuel to motivate you to hone your skills and press towards goals. Or the same emotion can turn to fear, arousing demoralizing thoughts like “No one will like it,” and “Why bother?”
While much has been written about how to market your book, there is relatively little guidance for the emotional struggle. Because I have had to cope with my own social anxiety, I have been studying this issue for years, reading self-help books, and incorporating lessons from my formal training in counseling psychology, and trying the strategies myself. In addition, I have listened and learned from other writers who have struggled with their own variations on these challenges.
To unravel these negative reactions, I have assembled twenty tips that can help you break free of the restrictions place on you by shyness. Ten of these tips are listed below, and you can find an additional ten in part 1 of this article by clicking here
Shift your attention from judges to admirers
Many of us have a generalized fear that “they” won’t like me or “they” will judge me and my writing. These vague feelings can have power, until we think about them clearly. Ask yourself who are “they.” What if some people admire you and others don’t? Are you demanding that all 6 billion people on earth adore you? Anyway, why are you giving so much importance to the ones who won’t like you? In every audience there is a mix. Focus your energy on the people who like you. Take their compliments seriously. Write towards your admirers, not your detractors.
Laugh your way past rejection and keep going
To sell your book, you must convince an agent or editor to invest time and money in your work. Naturally some will say no, a response that will likely disappoint you. Use creative ways to inoculate yourself against rejection. For example, write a humorous story about how you opened your door one day to find an editor who hated your writing so much she came to plead with you never to write again. Brag about your rejections as badges of courage. Collect stories about famous writers who were rejected a hundred times. Instead of allowing rejection to derail your intention, approach publishing like a business. Line up your possible customers and keep looking.
Be kind to assertive people
Do you cringe when you see an ordinary person speaking out in public? If you hate assertive people you might be sacrificing your public voice at the altar of courtesy. Like the wallflower sitting on the sidelines, your refusal to be pushy allows everyone else to have their dance while you miss out. Life is a balance between pushy and shy, so be aware of where you have drawn the line. Challenge your own negative attitude about assertive people, and take into account the many benefits of becoming a more socially assertive person yourself.
Open your heart to sales people
We all know the stereotype of the crass, insincere salesperson who will say anything to manipulate you to buy. But like any stereotype, this impression ignores the nuances. Instead of feeling a generalized antagonism towards all selling, consider the fact that persuasion is a normal, healthy, and important part of life.
Flip your viewpoint. Instead of worrying about persuading them, look at the way they persuaded you. When you walk into a bookstore and weigh all the options, you are, in effect, the target of thousands of persuaders calling you from the shelves. Each one of those books has a blurb, a cover, and a position on the shelf, all aimed at convincing you to buy. When you like a book, you appreciate their effort. Their selling actually enriched your life. It was a mutually beneficial transaction. Allow yourself to perform this same service for your readers. By convincing readers and the gatekeepers who guard their door, you are actually seeking to serve readers with your story.
Overcome your hatred of shame
Shame is such a horrible feeling, naturally you want to avoid it. But instead of allowing shame to control you, take a closer look at the emotion itself. According to psychologist John Bradshaw, there is good shame and bad shame. Bad shame or self loathing results from child abuse and needs to be healed. On the other hand, good shame is healthy. Its purpose is to stop you from doing socially unacceptable things. If you feel this emotion, it means you are trying to do the right thing.
By overcoming your disgust with shame, you can explore aspects of yourself that you have been avoiding all these years. Under the stinky exterior, you will find that much of the shame resulted from your desire to be a good person. You will also discover opportunities for deep healing.
Heal from memories of harsh criticism
Many adults are ashamed of their writing because of the derision of a high school English teacher or two. Exorcise the ghosts of these childhood critics by writing a story about a teacher who criticized you and then went home to care for a sick child, or perhaps had a crush on you and didn’t want anyone to find out. Or take a more psychological approach and work through these traumatic memories with a therapist.
Throw off the remnants of the English Class system
Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” needed to enunciate precisely in order to gain admission to upper class society. Nowadays, we look on the British Class system as a quaint relic. However, many of us still fear that a wrong comma or a poorly chosen word will expose us as classless commoners.
This fear derives its strength from unconscious whispers that insinuate your writing will expose you as a worthless human being. When you look more carefully, you will realize that society no longer measures us by our proper use of the King’s English.
Learn to tell your story in clear, compelling, and entertaining language. Your writing voice needs to be authentic and unique. Through practice you will discover this voice, constantly improving but never “perfect.” When you are finally ready to publish a book, you can hire an editor to weed out any remaining errors that might detract from the reader’s enjoyment.
Focus on your own generosity
One of the best antidotes to shyness is to switch your focus from fear to generosity. Instead of worrying about your own feelings, apply all that energy to making readers feel good.
Constantly improve your writing skills
It would be crazy to stop writing because you fear your book won’t be interesting enough. The book can’t possibly be interesting until you make it so. To create your best story, improve your language arts, practice, and learn to edit. Over time, your product will improve, and when you and your band of critiquers are pleased with it, you will be able to imagine that other people will be pleased as well.
In addition to being an expert about your life, become an expert about your memoir
To increase your sense of authority about your memories, do additional fact checking. Verify dates or street names. Interview other characters, and become aware of their perspective. It’s good to know in advance about any disagreements they might have. When appropriate reconcile their information with yours, or agree to disagree. Look up facts or read books about the period. The more you do your homework, the more authoritative you’ll feel when you present your information to others.
You can find an additional ten tips for overcoming shyness in part 1 of this article by clicking here
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on this blog, click here.
To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.
To learn more about my 200 page workbook about overcoming psychological blocks to writing, click here.
Check out the programs and resources at the National Association of Memoir Writers