Writing Advice, Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Writers’ Stage Fright

The blogs that are the best blogs are personal, not academic. Those are the blogs that are fun to read, or at least fun to read for me. The reason they are fun to read is because the author is writing for the joy of it. If you can’t write for the joy of it on your own blog, then where else? Blogs are possibly the most low-pressure forum anywhere.

My focus on my own blogs has been twisted. Right now, I need to focus on making myself a writer rather than making myself a viral success. I need to be an artist first. Always first. And I need to begin at the beginning. I need to humble myself.

I know a lot of craft shit. A lot. I have a style. I have a voice. I know oodles of words. I know how to type. I know how to get myself so balled up about a project that laying down the first word gives me a panic attack—literally. 

If I’m writing for the audience first, I get stage fright.

I used to perform often. I was very involved in drama and choir in school. I had two stunningly awesome speech classes. I was a singer. I was and am a performer. Also, every time I am about to perform, I feel like I’m going to die. My anxiety gets full and physical. I have to take long, deep breaths to hopefully slow down my heart enough so my chest doesn’t explode. I have to close my eyes because everything all of a sudden gets bright. My hands shake, hard. I get a little twitch at the corner of my mouth. My knees shake too. 

But here’s the great and weird thing:

When I perform, I am amazing. I don’t want to sound conceited there, but performing and public speaking are things at which I know I am excellent. 

During the speech class, I stood up there delivering the speech with my hands shaking, suppressing my tick, making sure to slow my words, and even though I am going through all that, the performance comes out shiningly.  

After, I sit down and let my hands shake their last shakes, and when they’re done, I feel a euphoria that is so all-encompassing it is impossible to describe. Better than crack, we’ll say. Better than crack.

The difference between performance anxiety before an actual performance and performance anxiety before beginning a writing project is that when you’re set to perform, you must perform. Your cast members, partner, grades depend on it. There is a lot at stake should you fail to act. With writing, it’s different. You can convince yourself all day long that your anxiety is bigger and more important than your need to write. The whole big show won’t be ruined if you take a nap instead. Nobody will fail and be held back if you’d rather play on Facebook. Performance anxiety gets the best of you and stops you in your tracks.

The question becomes, how do you overcome performance anxiety as a writer? I don’t have a clear answer. I remember all the things we’d say to each other before shows: “Don’t be nervous. The audience wants you to succeed,” “Plant your feet and own the stage,” or, my personal favorite, “Anxiety and excitement have the same physical symptoms, so just tell yourself you’re excited.” I like that one because it sounds super wise, but is near impossible to do. 

Perhaps the key is not considering your audience at all in the beginning. There is no stage when you sit down to write. No one is watching you or judging you. If you hate what you write, it need not ever see the light of day. You are totally in control. You are totally free.

Dance like no one is watching, blah blah blah and so on, big saccharine barf.

Conquering writers’ stage fright is easier said than done, but better done than undone.

For now, that’s the best I can do. 

-M. 

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Writing Life

All That Nature Stuff

Previously dead and dying plants coming back to life, like my writing.
Previously dead and dying plants coming back to life, like my writing.

This morning, as I watered the plants, I noticed some green leaves on a plant that, previous to me making a routine of watering, looked entirely dead and brown. I am grateful for this. I am grateful for life in brown places.

There is another plant, the day lily my dog Oliver likes to eat, that is also greener than it has been. There are mysterious bushes around the columns of the pergola that are green on the bottoms and just bare branches on the top. The bare branches wind around the columns as if clinging to life itself. I suppose I must have faith the green and growing foundation I am helping build for them will help them be able to stand on their own one day.

There is a metaphor here.

There is a metaphor for writing and life. Something about giving your writing sustenance and trusting the ground it is planted in will become rich and fertile again, even after long periods of drought. It’s like that with me. I suffered a terrible writing drought lately, but once I started giving it the lifeline of daily practice and play, of getting out in the light and the air and the gentle morning sun, my drought has come to an end. The trick is, like the plants, that because I know I am in a drought-prone area, (I go through periods of barren writing times fairly regularly), I must hand-water. That is, I must not wait for inspiration to fall from the sky like rain. I must give myself the life saving element and, when rain does come, let it come, but not to be dependent on the fickle clouds.

I am grateful for this metaphor and for the real plants that have inspired it. Who knew I would find so much inspiration in “all that nature stuff”? I am beginning to feel what other poets and writers have felt. Weird.

-M.