Performance Anxiety for Writers?
I've been watching the Olympics the last several days, trying to imagine the pressure such young athletes feel as they stand there waiting for the music to start, or the buzzer to sound. I empathize, and my pulse starts to race for them.
Most of us have done it: stood in front of a crowd, palms sweating, heart pounding, throat dry as dust. Or maybe it wasn’t a big crowd. Maybe stage fright kicked in just by sitting at a table with strangers at a conference luncheon. Or coming out of lurkdom to comment on a blog. Or teaching a workshop. Or pitching a story to an editor or agent. Or having lunch with a newly acquired editor or agent for the first time. Or hitting “publish” on a blog post. Or hitting “send” on a manuscript, releasing it out into the contest world or to an editor’s desk. Or facing revisions/edits. Or seeing your published “baby” on a shelf or website, knowing others would read the words you so carefully penned.
Performance Anxiety. It’s not just for singers and dancers and athletes! It can be a problem with writers, too.
WebMD lists these symptoms:
• Racing pulse and rapid breathing
• Dry mouth and tight throat
• Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
• Sweaty and cold hands
• Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
• Vision changes
I would add insomnia, tightness in the your chest, being unable to think straight, inability to act (paralyzed by fear).
|photo credit: Crestock/cteconsulting|
I have a confession to make. I had insomnia a week ago as I worked on my post for today. I stress each month, wanting to make sure I have something interesting, helpful or inspiring to offer here in Seekerville. In fact, my very first post for this blog talked about worrying over not being funny enough or good enough! (Here’s that post for a laugh.)
I’ve also taught workshops at the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference and the RWA Conference, and have spoken to civic and church groups, all times where I thought my heart would pound right out of my chest and flop onto the podium. I spoke to the women's group at my OWN church, and my poor daughter said she kept trying to breathe for me because I sounded like I couldn't catch my breath. I’ve even taught online workshops where I could hardly sleep from worrying about pleasing participants.
The first time I sent my work to a published author to be critiqued at my local RWA chapter (thank you Ann Howard White!), I was nearly sick and almost burst into tears when she met with me to give feedback.
The first time I had lunch with my each of my editors I was so tongue-tied it’s a wonder I made a lick of sense.
The first time I set up a conference pitch appointment to meet with an agent (Natasha Kern, who I signed with years later!), I ended up cancelling the appointment because I chickened out!
(Note: Ann, Emily, Melissa and Natasha are lovely, caring people. The nervousness of those first meetings was totally from my end!)
I’m not a wimp. I’m not usually a chicken. Though I’m a bit of an introvert, I’m not shy. I can easily talk to strangers at the grocery store or hair salon. My kids get a kick out of how I’ll strike up a conversation with just about anyone. My husband once heard me talking to a woman who had a child about my son’s age and thought she was an old college friend. Yet I had just met her in the checkout line.
But put me in a situation where I feel as if I have to perform, and it’s a totally different ballgame. When it gets down to it, writing is a type of performance. We’re putting our words out there for everyone to read. And depending on what we’re writing, we may even be putting our heart and soul on the page for others to take a look inside us, to know us.
And that can be scary.
I brought some practical tips to help with performance anxiety. But before I go there, I want to take the issue one step further and share what I’ve learned about these fears of mine.
I’m doing a new Bible study right now, and we’re using FiveThings God Uses to Grow Your Faith, by Andy Stanley (I love his books and videos!). Something he said in the introductory video really hit me in regard to my issue. Andy said (and these quotes are just taken from my notes and aren't exact):
Every healthy relationship is built on trust. The relationship break between God and man happened over trust. Jesus’ message is: put your trust in Me to reestablish relationship. God is wooing us to trust Him.
That was a wake-up call to me. I’ve decided that my performance anxiety (people pleasing tendencies) boils down to fear, and the fear boils down to not trusting God to be in control and capable.
Do I really believe God is capable of taking care of me, my loved ones, and my writing career?
YES! So I need to live that way.
Whether or not you’re dealing with the spiritual trust issue, I figured some practical tips could help. I returned to WebMD for advice. They give 10 tips for handling performance anxiety. I’ve tailored those tips for writers.
1. Be prepared/practice. If you’re going to speak or meet with someone in the industry or send out your work, don’t wait until the night before to throw something together. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel. If you tend to get tongue-tied like I do, then write something down to take with you.
2. Don’t let nerves keep you from eating. You sure don’t want to get up in front of people and get dizzy or keel over. On the other hand, don’t stuff yourself beforehand either. Your nervous stomach will thank you. :) Also, don’t over-do on caffeine or sugar. Being hyper isn’t usually a good thing.
3. Shift the focus off yourself and your fear and think about the other person or the audience. Focus on making them feel comfortable. This is one of my favorite pieces of advice in any uncomfortable situation!
4. Don’t focus on what could go wrong. Stay positive! Think about the best possible outcome and expect that.
|Photo credit: iStock/petekarici|
5. Avoid negative self talk or thoughts that produce self-doubt. Nip them in the bud!
6. Practice controlled breathing. Pray. Focus on positive thoughts. Remain calm. I’ve stopped the terrible heart pounding while singing solos in church by prayer and slow, deep breathing.
7. Take a walk or do something physical beforehand that helps calm you or gets your nervousness out. If your muscles are in fight-or-flight mode (our body’s reaction to real danger—which stage fright can cause), then try jogging in place or jumping up and down to relieve some of that energy.
8. Connect with your audience or with the other person. If you’re in person, smile and look them in the eye. If it’s online, jump in with friendly conversation. You can do this!
9. Act natural and be yourself! Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to meet unrealistic expectations. (If you’re shy, don’t think you suddenly have to become the life of the party.) Just reach out and be you. And always remember the other person/people may be nervous too! (Remember #3.)
10. Get plenty of rest! This is a big one for me. You can’t be on top of your game if you’re exhausted and frazzled. You need brain power (same as with eating).
I would also add another tip. Don’t ever hold back in your writing. Be honest, be passionate. Don’t fear letting readers get close. And don’t let anxiety keep you from doing your best work. Don't let it stop you from speaking up or stepping out to take advantage of opportunities.
I hope my sharing has helped you who suffer from similar anxiety. If you don’t, then I’m happy for you! If you’ve battled and overcome already, I applaud you!
Today, I’d love to hear from our lurkers, especially those who’ve been shy about commenting. I’ll give away one copy of any of my books (print or e-book as available), winner’s choice, to any lurker who comments and lets me know you’d like to be entered.
My question for everyone (lurker or not) is: who here has ever experienced stage fright? How’d you deal with it? Also, I'd love to hear what you think about the Olympics so far!