Thursday, March 8, 2007

Stage Fright And Writing

Trolling through old content from Absolute Write, I happened across the transcript of an interview from last January with Jenna Glatzer. She's actually the owner of Absolute Write, as well as an experienced writer. In the interview, she talks a lot about stage fright and how she found that affected her strongly in her prior career as a stage actor, and yet how it isn't something that has ever really been an issue for her with writing. She postulates that this is at least partly because writing is her secondary thing, while acting was her original dream.

I think that's very interesting, because I think a lot of aspiring authors hold writing as their Big Dream, and thus a whole lot of their identity is wrapped up in the stories they write. I think that might contribute to that fear of rejection that we all have--this isn't just some random job interview of which there are many more possibilities besides. This is our Dream, and there's only so many agents and editors out there. If writing is our only way to evaluate our professional self worth, then that's even worse--everyone gets rejections, and most people can't get their first book published (I read over on Pub Rants a while ago that the average might be three unpublished books before one is sold).

I don't mention this quasi-statistic to be discouraging, and neither did they. Just because that's the anecdotal average doesn't mean it will hold true for everyone, either. But no matter what, you're going to get rejections. I've never heard of a published writer who said they hadn't. So the important thing is to not let yourself get too tied up by any individual work--whether that means moving on to the next book while you query for your current one, or whether that means not being so afraid that your current book isn't good enough that you never finish writing it. This is a time-intensive business, and as anyone who has queried for a book can tell you, the actual long process of writing the book is only Part 1.

Write for yourself. Unlike singers or actors, we don't have to perform on stage, and we should use that to our advantage. Don't needlessly put yourself on stage while you're writing. I know several singers (my sister and my sister in law are both terrific), and one of their biggest problems is not letting performance anxiety affect their performances. When they perceive the stakes as being really high, there's a risk that their vocal cords will constrict, and that has a very negative impact on the quality of their singing. You never hear this in professional singers, because sometime before they went pro, they learned how to control their fear.

And I think writers face the same challenge. A certain amount of introspection is healthy and wonderful, and absolutely necessary. But before we're ever going to be a true pro, we have to learn how to differentiate between the healthy analysis and that which is just stage fright. We have to write like there's no one else in the room (and, um, there probably isn't). Writing isn't like stage performance. It's like working in the recording studio or for the camera: you have as many takes as you need (and there aren't any other staff/actors/singers waiting on you, either, so even better). If your first draft of a new scene or chapter isn't great, don't despair. You have as many revisions or rewrites as you need, and you're the only one watching or keeping count. Write for yourself.


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post, Chris! I think one day you're going to write one of those 'How To Write a Novel' books... ;) Seriously, though, I can relate to so much in this. And it's come at a good time, as I'm trying to feel motivated with my writing today but keep 'looking over my shoulder' to check if anyone's laughing at what I'm doing (laughing for all the wrong reasons, of course!).


Christopher M. Park said...

Thanks Karen! I'm glad this was a timely post for you; it's what I am really just re-realizing for myself, too. Progress on ALDEN RIDGE is picking up again, but hasn't been what I had hoped for the last week or so (zero words last week). I finally realized that I was just avoiding it. I've written 1,500 words so far this week, though, so that's something. Hopefully I can double or triple that in the next few days, but we'll see.


Cellophane Queen said...

Considering that when you do finally get a book published, you'll have to go to a lot of signings and readings, a writer would do well to practice public appearances as well as writing. Taking a speech or acting class at the local community college wouldn't be the worst of ideas. Besides, there's always the 'pitch' if you can snag face time with an agent at a conference.

Writer: Must be adept in both written and verbal communication.

Christopher M. Park said...

Hi Marva,
Thanks for the comment! I definitely agree with you there, and didn't mean to give the impression that writers don't have to be able to be on stage on occasion. My only point was that during the writing process itself, there's nobody watching, and we only make things harder on ourselves if we pretend like there is. But yes, once that book is done and you move from writing to promotion/selling, all the rules change.

Fortunately for me, I enjoy public speaking immensely, and am fairly practiced at it from my day job.


Anonymous said...

Public speaking... ugh... Hate it! :-(

Chandra Rooney said...

The weirdest thing about this "job interview" is that we're trying to get hired by our employees.

Agents work for US, but we have to get chosen by THEM.

Which is just how it works, I know, but it's funny if you think of it that way.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess you're right... Maybe it's a bit of both though - we're interviewing *each other* to find the 'best fit' for both agent and author.

p.s. Chandra I know you're really busy, but if there's any chance you could check out Chris' latest comment on my blog, he says you might have some advice for me..? Thank you, if you can. :)

Christopher M. Park said...

That is a funny way of looking at it. I was just referring to the similarity of querying agents to the actual process of interviewing--but you're right, it is a backwards sort of situation when you really think about it!