Overcoming your fears so you can tell what your book’s about
What writer-type stuff do you want for Christmas (or your holiday of choice)? Let me know. We’re compiling a Holiday Gift Guide for publication in early December.
There’s a lot out there on the Interwebs about writers being introverts, and many of us are. Personally, I’m a freak. Put a microphone in front of an audience of strangers, and I’m your guy. I’ll entertain the living crap out of them and not feel even a little self-conscious. Put me in a small group situation or one-on-one with people and my throat tightens with the noose of interpersonal interaction closing around it.
Most of the time, that works for me as a writer. I can create people and enjoy the illusion that they’ll do whatever I tell them to do. (Often it doesn’t work that way–different blog post.) It’s good that I enjoy that because I have to spend a lot of time with these pretend people.
The problem comes when I have to go one-on-one with people and talk about my writing. Seriously, if I’m running on and you want me to shut up, just ask me about what I’m writing. Suddenly, coherence flees from me like good sense from Lindsay Lohan, or fashion sense from Donald Trump’s hair stylist.
That’s a problem. In order to be a good writer, you have to excel at interacting with your fictional creations. In order to be a successfully published writer, you have to excel at being riveting when you talk about your work.
Thing is, if you do your homework, it’s not that hard. If I ask you how to make a bed or a peanut butter sandwich, you can tell me that. There’s probably very little you’d have to be self-conscious about. So the trick is to know your work, what it’s about, and be able to talk about it with the same level of assurance as if you’re telling me how to make a hospital-bed corner.
When you’re asked what your novel’s about, it doesn’t mean what happens. It means what it’s about. In my work in progress, a guy loses his wife, then has to fight for his job, then deal with the aftereffects of losing not only his job, but his best friend, too. But it’s about a guy whose life is a modern-day version of Job, but with more backstabbing, betrayal, and an avalanche of political game-playing and hatred thrown in. Essentially, it’s about having everything you value taken from you and figuring out what’s important then.
I can write that quite nicely, but if you got me in an elevator, I’d sound like Fonzie saying he’s wrong (or a car with a dying starter).
Agents and publishers understand those butterflies, but they also understand that we are–and have to be–our best salesmen. If we can’t convey belief in our own work, why should someone spend their money on us?
The only way to get good at projecting that belief is to practice, practice, practice. Give ourselves a realistic basis for having and projecting that belief.