Yes, it’s the somewhat delayed post where I talk about being a shy writer.
In the old days, I’m sure it was easy. You stay behind your typewriter, hammered it until your fingers were nothing but calloused stumps, and sent the fruit of your labour to a publisher, or, if we’re really going back in time, newspapers, who quite possibly printed it. The ideal profession for those of us who prefer dealing with our imaginary friends to dealing with *gulp* fellow human beings. Because writing full-time isn’t the ideal job for people who like to be surrounded by other people all day. It’s mind-numbing, buttock-increasing, occasionally fabulous, bloody hard work, and there isn’t a lot of human interaction. And when human interaction does occur, it’s generally along the lines of – “What? Are you bringing tea? Can you kindly bugger off for another twenty minutes while I work out how to untie Penelope from the railway line, please?”
Not the profession for the social butterfly. then…
(‘Scuse me, have to go bite the postman now…)
Where was I? Oh yes. If you’re shy, this kind of solitude can be very nice. But eventually, if you’re like… ooh, every writer I know, you’re going to want to publish something. More than one thing. And people may like it and you may end up with fans, which is just about the most mind-blowing thing there is. And then someone will say to you – “We’re having a conference next weekend. Would you like to give a talk?”
That sound you hear is either the scream of brakes, or the scream of the terrified writer burrowing under a pile of manuscript pages and shouting “No! I don’t wanna!” Which is exactly what I did a few years ago when I was first asked, before I gritted my teeth and sent off a polite email saying of course, I would love to, and would there be a chance to sell my books? And tea. Don’t forget the tea…
Because, unlike Ye Olden Days, if you want to be a professional writer, you can’t do it on your own. You have to go out there, meet people, smile politely and make speeches even though you’d rather crawl under the desk and gibber quietly to yourself. And it gets easier (or so I’m told). It’s quite possible that the smiling, confident chap who’s just given a brilliant talk or is sat signing a pile of books is, as a fellow writer, just as much of a social recluse as you. It’s possible he’s very nearly as nervous. It’s very likely he would welcome a smile, an extended hand, an offer of a pint. He could be an agent looking for just what you’ve written, or an author building an anthology, or just a genuinely nice guy you run into at conventions. If you don’t talk to him, you’ll never know.
SMILE (my favourite is the kind of glazed-racoon grin that has people backing away slowly) If you act like you’re having a good time, you may find that you are.
If it’s the kind of event where people wear name badges, brilliant. If not, introduce yourself – “Hi, I’m Doreen from Bristol, pleased to meet you” will probably do it. If the person you talk to dives under the nearest table – congrats, you’ve found another Shy Scribbler. You could sit under the table together and comment on people’s footwear as they pass.
If you can, check who’s going the night before. There may be someone there whose books you like. And nothing (maybe apart from “Can I buy you a pint?”) breaks the ice at author’s gatherings quicker than, “I liked your last book!” Trust me, as an author that’s up there with, “Hey, you won the lottery!” and “I’m from Hollywood, Sam Worthington wants to play Fred in the adaptation of your book….”
Having said all this, I’m off to an academic fantasy writers conference on Saturday and I’ve met very few of the people who are going to be there, and yes, I’m incredibly nervous. Like, throwing-up nervous. Throwing up and hoping that no one who’s going is reading this or they might not want to shake my hand nervous. But I’m going because a) I want to go, b) I can get there (it’s in Glastonbury, which is easy to get to from here), and c) because I NEED to get out there and meet people and not feel sick with fear at the thought, if I’m going to achieve anything in this writing business. So here goes. Hoping I don’t make a complete twit of myself 🙂
I will report on how it goes, on the state of people’s footwear, whether I find a friend, and whether I pick up any more tips, this coming Sunday. Wish me luck, and stay tuned for part Two!