I just started teaching another round of Creative Writing 101 and Creative Nonfiction for Gotham Writers’ Workshop. Every time I start a new class, I give my little lecture about the benefits of reading your work in class. I tell them it always helps to hear your own work aloud, which is a great way to edit yourself even if you read it in a room alone. I also tell them it’s important to put your work out there, one way or another, so you don’t get too worked up about it or attached to it. If you want to be a “real” writer, that usually means publishing, and the best way to get over your fears that your work isn’t good enough is to share it with others. A few magical things may happen: 1. Those listening may laugh, or cry, or relate, or compliment you, or applaud, and that will make you feel amazing. Or 2. There won’t be much reaction at all, but you will live, and that will make all the difference. You put it out there, you live, you move on.
I came across a nice post this morning on LifeHacker about How to Overcome the Fear of Sharing Your Writing in Public. It’s great, and you should read it. It involves important mental tricks like imagining your audience as just one person and getting over perfection. To supplement that, I’d like to add some more concrete — and, some might say, fun — things that have helped me get over my fear of sharing my work (and, more importantly in my case, my trepidation about public speaking):
1. Go to karaoke. Karaoke is my solution to a number of life’s ills. I happen to love singing, and I always have. But even if you don’t feel like you’re particularly adept, this works. In fact, all the better. The beauty of karaoke is that it is a place where we sanction anyone and everyone standing up at a microphone and belting out a song. We applaud and cheer even — sometimes especially — if the person isn’t all that good. Singing in public, living through it, and actually getting applause for it is a powerful experience. It’s nice if you happen to be good at it, and you may get better at it with practice, but that’s not really the point. If you can sing in public, you can probably read your work in writing class or publish your blog post.
2. Mastered the karaoke? Start a band! This is precisely what happened to me: While at karaoke one night, my friend suggested we start a band. She sort-of played the drums, I had once taken a few guitar lessons. I went back to guitar lessons, and now we are a two-woman band. We are not great. We are possibly approaching decent after three years of this. But singing and playing an instrument with another person of equally amateur quality is much more challenging than karaoke. You have invited a crowd out to hear you, and everything can go wrong no matter how many times you’ve nailed a song in rehearsal. Be okay with this anyway, and your fear of other public performances decreases exponentially. Even if you just play a few open mics, you will advance your performance ability by leagues.
3. Take a dance class. You will be totally self-conscious at first. Then you will soon come to the realization that everyone else is so worried about themselves that there’s no time for them to judge you. If there’s anything that helps you get over sharing your work in public, it may be this: No one cares about you nearly as much as you think they do. Inspiring? Maybe not. But it helps!