On October 18, I participated in the annual Novel Slam, held as part of Sheffield's Off the Shelf lit fest. But until 30 seconds before I got up on stage to deliver my novel's first line and 1-minute pitch, there was no way I was going through with it.
I absolutely detest being front-and-centre. As I often tell my editing clients, "I am not the person on the stage; I am the one in the lighting booth." I have always had a fear of performing. I recall the occasions as a child when I had to sing or act and hating every single second, mostly in contrast to my peers who seemed to revel in the attention and thrill of performing. Fortunately for me on Monday, I had two things in my favour:
1. A friend who would not let me back out
2. A surname that put me last in the pitching order
Both of these helped me conquer my fear in the moment and put myself out there. And man, did I sweat! But I am so pleased I did it, given that I was voted into the final eight entrants by the Novel Slam audience and then placed second by the panel of esteemed judges. Hurrah for validation! The experience has relit the fire in my belly, and I'm more determined than ever to get my novel published.
So, what did I learn from this little adventure?
1. Find a friend who will hold you accountable and (if necessary) shame you into putting yourself out there, be it as a contest entrant or performer of your work.
2. Understand why you're afraid to put yourself out there. For me, the reason is usually imposter syndrome, which is a decades-old affliction. However, since hitting 40, I care very little about others' judgement, so my reason no longer holds water. If you understand your reason for hiding, there will be plenty of advice online about how to overcome your fear.
3. The writing community is incredibly supportive. Wherever you are, you'll be part of a community that's in it together. Sure, you'll find a few oddballs, but mostly other writers have got your back and want you to succeed. Knowing this makes putting yourself out there much easier.
4. Be prepared! I showed up to the event not expecting a pitching slot, but I went armed with my materials anyway. I'm not suggesting you carry your manuscript everywhere on the off-chance, but I would suggest having your elevator pitch committed to memory. You simply never know who might want to hear it! It's a heck of a lot easier to put yourself out there one-to-one, too.
5. Putting yourself out there is the job of a serious author. There is no choice, so suck it up! If you don't put yourself out there, your just a guy or gal in a room with a laptop.
All this said, my Achilles heel is social media. The very idea of Instagram fills me with dread and a weariness I cannot describe, and Twitter just irritates me. But social media unavoidable because its the most efficient way of putting yourself out there, so I guess that's my next challenge--one that can wait till 2022.
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith