Been there, done that, what's next?

Last Saturday, for the first time, I appeared in public as a writer. Another milestone now behind me. Some people are attracted to such events like butterflies to bright flowers. I’m more like a unicorn; I’d rather not be seen. However, remaining anonymous is a luxury no 21st century writer can afford. In the Forbes’ article, Five Lessons For Authors and Self-Publishers, Neil Gaiman tells writers that you have to get out there, you have to be a part of your community, and you have to be the signal, not the noise.  

Word count: 600                                                        Reading time: 1-2 minutes

I accepted the invitation to join the panel because I knew I needed to. In days before the event, I reminded myself of Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: Do one thing every day that scares you.  It’s not like I’m naturally timid and desperately in need of that advice. I’ve travelled to Europe alone, I’ve moved across Canada by myself, I’ve moved across the Pacific. Twice. I’ve camped in the Outback and scuba dived in the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest. But none of those were as daunting as public speaking.

I prepared myself as best I could. I read aloud, into a voice recorder, and forced myself to listen to it. I asked the moderator if I needed to bring notes on any subject but she said no, it would just be informal questions and answers. I sang at the top of my lungs on my way to the library where the festival was held. This seemed to strengthen my vocal chords or at least clear the cobwebs. I couldn’t be more ready, or so I thought.

Then there was a moment of horror when the moderator asked us all to speak, for three to five minutes, on our journey to publication. If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’m not yet published. I have a contract to publish. I do not yet have a book in my hand but the organizers considered that an important point in the road and thus I was included. As the junior panel member, it was natural that I’d be first off the mark. But I hadn’t brought notes.

Being first meant I didn’t have the benefit of gathering my thoughts as others spoke. So I took the microphone (another first) and winged it. I tried to speak slowly, not my usual geyser rush of words. I made eye contact with members of the audience. The session went on for an hour and a half. I seem to remember being on my feet a fair bit of it. I wonder what I said. I really can’t remember.

As Robert Brockway states in the blog, Writing is the easy part, the burden of promotion and marketing now falls squarely on the writer’s shoulders. The North Shore Writers’ Festival was my first chance to test the waters of getting known, of a little self-promotion.

When it was all over, I realized I’d learned a lot:

  • People who attend writers’ festivals are incredibly supportive.
  • When a speaker makes eye contact with an audience member, and she nods in agreement, it’s incredibly helpful. It lets the speaker know she is understood.
  • People who go up to a speaker after a talk and say something like, “that was really interesting” make the speaker’s day.
  • I will be a better audience member from now on.

Have you ventured into some peripheral realm of writing that you dreaded, only to discover it wasn’t nearly as bad as you expected? Or was it even worse? Where have your greatest joys and biggest disappointments been?


Photo by: Raksit