For the next couple of weeks, we're discussing writing conferences here at Something Wicked. I'm extra excited to go to the RT Booklover's convention in a couple of weeks. I fully plan on making a spectacle of myself by dressing up, having fun, twisting little balloon aliens for Linnea Sinclair's Intergalactic Bar and Grille party, talking to people, dancing, and having even more fun.
But I know there are people out there about to attend some of these conferences who are deep-in-their gut nervous about the whole thing. I see them at conferences, eyes down, shoulder's hunched, arms closed. They sit in the back, in the corner, in the shadows and they watch with a mix of terror and longing.
Well, here's a confession. I used to be terrified of social situations too. I remember in my younger days, going into a social situation and the thoughts running through my head were an endless litany of "What?" What are they thinking about me? What if they don't like me? What if everyone here thinks I'm stupid, ugly, annoying, talentless ... the list goes on and on.
Well no wonder I wanted to hide! I didn't break the cycle of those thoughts until I spent a couple of years earning money by twisting balloon animals in restaurants. I didn't have the luxury of thinking negatively. If I didn't actively approach people and engage them, I wouldn't make any money, period.
Twisting balloons taught me a couple of things. I'm going to share them with you. Use them well.
#1 Most people want to be engaged in a conversation, and the ones who don't will let you know.
Most people out at a conference are there to meet people, have lively conversations about writing, and make new friends. Get the negative junk out of your head. Believe it or not, people really want to talk with you. So take a deep breath, look for people laughing and smiling with their body language open, plaster a genuine smile on your face, and say, hi!
#2 If you want to be interesting, be interested.
I constantly have to watch myself because I will talk your ear off if you let me. Before each conversation, I look at a person and decide to come away from the conversation with three new things I have learned about them, and I do my best to commit those things to memory. That way if I meet that person again, we have something to continue talking about. Listen, smile, listen some more, and then be kind and supportive. Who doesn't love that?
#3 It takes guts to start talking, so have a plan and practice.
My first few months twisting balloons, I had a specific little spiel memorized, and I'd literally bounce up to a table to hide my nervous twitching, then launch right into it. I needed the crutch of something familiar to make the leap. So before conferences, role play, or just act crazy around the house and talk to thin air. Practice a "Is this seat taken?" speech. A "Wow, my shoes are killing me!" speech, a "I just got out of the coolest workshop," speech, a "So, what are you writing?" speech, and a "Hi, where are you from/how was your flight?" speech. You know these things are going to come up, so be prepared. Practice talking to imaginary people. We do it as writers all the time, but the practice really helps the nerves.
#4 If you're nervous, people understand.
I still feel that little thrill of fear, get terrible shaky hands, and the sensation my face is flushing every time I speak up in a group. It's not going to go away, but you don't have to let it stop you. So what if you blush, or look a little abashed? Both tend to be charming. When you accept the feeling, it doesn't ramp up quite as badly, and so long as you smile, it will be okay.
#5 Smile, smile, smile, smile, smile.
Not much more I can say about that. A smile can calm you down, make you more attractive, and smooth the way for those little conversations you practiced.
So there you go! Straighten up and let's all put our best foot forward. It will be fun, and it doesn't have to be agony.
Sorry I can't help with editor/agent appointment nerves. That's a whole 'nuther ball of wax.