Spiders, Snakes, Public Speaking, and Not Querying Agents

From Writer Unboxed:

A while ago, a writer friend of mine was talking about her first query letter. She’d let me read it and I thought it was well done. This wasn’t a surprise. She’d spent a lot of time on it, she’d researched, revised, and sent it out to critique partners for their honest opinions. It was at a place where further effort was just spinning her wheels, at least until agents started to weigh in.

But she was frozen in place, terrified to send it out. She admitted that even though she knew the query and the manuscript were both in excellent shape, she couldn’t pull the trigger. “What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like…me?

“They won’t,” I told her in my usual too-blunt way. “At least, most of them won’t. That’s just the way it works. But they don’t all have to like you. Only one has to like you.”

She laughed and said, “Can you imagine going out on stage in front of a large audience, singing a big emotional ballad that you wrote yourself, and when you’re done the audience is silent except for one person, slow clapping in the back row?”

She had a point.

It occurred to me that as writers, we really are true performers, and not so different than any other artist whose platform is a stage or a gallery wall. My friend couldn’t send out her query because she was suffering from good old-fashioned stage fright.

Based on my research, social anxiety and fear of public speaking/performance affect 22 million Americans and are two of the top-twelve most common phobias (along with fear of spiders, snakes, heights, flying, dogs, storms, needles/injections, germs, and both wide open and small spaces). These phobias are evolutionary and have been key to our survival—keeping us away from poisons or getting too close to a cliff edge and falling to our deaths. But now, with our day-to-day lives being lived in much safer environs, those evolutionary anxieties have less purpose while being no less present. Even when there’s no actual threat to our safety, our bodies often want to flee, or they just freeze up. Not surprisingly, these fears attack self-confidence and cause people to avoid stepping up to the podium even when doing so could lead to long-term success.

Getting back to my friend and her query letter, she’d admit that her stage fright comes from her need to be perfect and her fear that she never will be. Well (here’s me being blunt again), she’s right about that. She never will be perfect. None of us will. Check out this 1-star review for the King James Bible:

“I would have given it 5 stars if not for the 2 typographical errors that I’ve found (so far).”

For some, simply acknowledging that perfection is not attainable may be all it takes to gather the courage needed to put their writing out there for others to see, to judge, to love, or to hate.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed