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. 

Writing Advice, Writing On Writing

Hot and Sweet

My ancient fiction professor at Vanderbilt once told us about a man he knew who drank Dr. Pepper hot. When work was over, this man would get into his after-fives and stir it in a saucepan over low heat, delicately, like he was handling milk. “Sometimes,” Professor Sullivan said, “it’s all right to let your characters take life a little too far.”

-M.

Humor, Writing On Writing

Screw that! …And Here’s a Picture of Me Smoking on a Vespa. (writing on writing)

c62c00d2190d21f290d97a72277536b2I have been going through some deeply dramatic changes in my life lately, not the least of which is my attitude toward writing. I drive myself hard, but it had come to the point where I had actually become cruel and, rather than that cruelty leading to more artistic production, it did the exact opposite and led to nothing but blocks, an acid stomach, and sleepless nights spent fretting and miserable.

All of that until I decided enough of that, took my life in a new direction in all facets, and committed to driving myself firmly, but lovingly.

In that vein, I found this picture the other day and fell in love with it. I’ve decided it’s me and it’s my new thing. When the writing gets tense and I hear the cruel voice start to crank it up, my response is going to be, “Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me smoking on a Vespa.”

(Because that lady looks all kinds of “screw that”, doesn’t she?)

It’s the best writerly advice I can give to myself right now or to anyone else. Find a “screw that” picture that speaks to you, keep it on your desk for those dark moments, and, when necessary declare:

“Screw that! …and here’s a picture of me… riding a llama, cavorting with bandits on a beach, goth-clad straddling a chair backward, petting velvet the wrong way, and/or the ever popular, smoking on a Vespa.”

(I’ll share it with you. I’m nice like that.)

Be free. Be free and kind to yourself. Write. Do it. You’ll feel better after. I promise or your money back.

-M.