Anyone who knows me well knows that I looove to talk. In fact, my husband says I have the gift of gab.
Unfortunately, my junior high English teacher described it another way, namely with a visual I'll never forget. Without any regard for my fragile junior high emotions, she said I had diarrhea of the mouth.
But as much as I love to talk, I'll be the first to admit that I don't exactly love public speaking. One-on-one? I'm in. Small group? Fine by me. But talking to a large group makes me nervous, really nervous...even if I have the material down cold.
Since public speaking often goes with the whole author gig, I've learned to make the best of these situations, even if I feel like I'm going to throw up beforehand. I find that once I'm actually introduced, I kick into speaking gear and feel totally comfortable in front of a crowd. But like so many things in life, the waiting is the truly the hardest part.
I was reminded of all of this on Monday night when I spoke in front of about 75 people at the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild's monthly meeting. A friend of mine kindly asked me to be the event's keynote speaker, an opportunity that a new-ish author certainly doesn't pass up. So I said "yes," even though I knew what that entailed...feeling sick and flu-ish before finally calming down.
Like any good speaker, I did my preparation beforehand and tried to memorize my spiel so I could simply refer to my notes, rather than using them as a crutch. After all, eye contact is crucial for success, so I wanted to be ready for anything.
So I wrote something I was happy with, a few encouraging thoughts on writing in what's certainly a volatile time with all the magazines closing, newspapers folding and book publishers becoming increasingly more picky about what they chose to publish.
But then something weird happened only moments before I was supposed to step up to the podium. I wasn't feeling my speech at all...not one bit. For whatever reason, I didn't think it was right for the audience, but what was I supposed to do? I didn't have any time to write something else. I certainly couldn't bail on these sweet, sweet people, but I also didn't want to look like a fool, delivering something I wasn't passionate about. So in my moment of near panic, I suddenly knew what to do. I would share my own story...the ups and downs of my journey as a writer along with a few of the practical tips I'd written down beforehand. And hopefully, if I told the story just right, well, there would some sort of takeaway value.
Thankfully, as nervous as I was, my gut instinct worked just fine. And low and behold, I was actually having fun doing something I normally hate...public speaking. Even better were the reactions as I looked out at the crowd. There were lots of approving glances, nodding heads, and my favorite part of all, plenty of laughs as I talked about my obsession with Judy Blume's writing while growing up in small-town Wisconsin, my journey to Nashville with one month's rent and an extra $100.00 in my pocket when I was 22 and how I've continued to sustain my freelance writing in our difficult economy today.
I guess I'm sharing all of this as a reminder to trust your instincts, especially in your writing. While critique groups and other people's proverbial two cents are definitely helpful in improving your writing, sometimes you just have to go with your gut when something doesn't feel right. And who knows, maybe just maybe, you'll have a small victory like I did this week. But even with that, I'm thinking that I'll still probably feel sick the next time I'm speaking in front of a crowd.