Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Relax And Be Yourself

Since the November 2008, release of the latest in the Sam Harper Crime Mysteries, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, I’ve focused more attention at doing local talks and book signings. My first speaking engagement was at a library back in October. When it comes to public speaking, I’m no different than most. Although my heart doesn’t pound and my palms stay dry these days, it’s still not my favorite thing to do. But, I was determined to get through that talk one way or another. I spend several days, outlining my thoughts, typing my notes, highlighting sections in my books I wanted to read, and trying to memorize my lines. All this in an attempt to come across as “perfectly natural.”

On the day of the gathering, all eyes were on me and I quickly discovered that no amount of planning or rehearsing was going to save me. Worried that I’d forget to say a key word or phrase stressed me to the point that at times, I drew a blank in mid sentence. Yes, readers say I’m capable of crafting complex plots and creating well-developed characters, but I couldn’t remember a simple outline.

A few minutes into the talk I tossed out my notes and started to tell my story from the heart. Smiles eased across the faces before me, heads began to nod and questions started to pop up. Clearly, those people weren’t there for a speech, they just wanted to talk. They wanted to know who I was, why I had chosen to write, and how this middle-aged woman from Indiana had managed to “do it.”

Recently, an elementary school teacher friend of mine invited me to speak with her sorority group. When I called to confirm things, she said she was very excited and was looking forward to my speech. She gasped when I told her I didn’t have anything planned.

“But, but—” she said.

I assured her that everything would be fine, that I would say a few things about myself and my writing and then see what the group was most interested in. As it turned out, it was a great group of women and the evening was a huge success. I love meeting people and doing what is most natural to me; talking about my books and the Sam Harper character. But more important, in the eyes of those present, I was as real as the person sitting next to them. I was approachable; just another woman in the group who happened to be a published author. It was wonderful!

What I hope writers will take from this is that no one knows your journey or your writing better than you. Whether you’re doing a local talk or chatting online, the most important thing you can do is to be yourself, connect with your readers and have fun, because there’s nothing more contagious than that.

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