Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Out of the Comfort Zone

I admit it -- I fit the stereotype of the introverted writer. I've learned to enjoy booksignings, schmoozing at writer conferences, speaking to groups and teaching workshops, but not without some significant effort. I'm much more comfortable tucked safely away in the confines of my familiar bubble -- alone with my characters (at least in my head) at home or at my favorite table at the neighborhood coffee shop.

That said, I believe strongly that I always benefit in some way from stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that makes me a little bit nervous. For instance, for the first 30 or so years of my life, public speaking was my greatest fear and I avoided it at all costs. But after I published my first book, I was asked to speak to a writer's group, and even though the thought of doing so made me sick to my stomach, I knew I had to do it for the sake of my career -- and for my own personal growth. And so I wrote a speech and I practiced giving it. Again. And again. And again. I stood in my office when nobody was home and pretended I was in front of an audience. I spoke out loud. When I finished, I started over again, repeating the process until I could ad lib and my notes were just a crutch for me to rely on in case I stumbled.

On the day of the presentation, I arrived early to get a feel for the room. I pretended to be calm, but inside, I was screaming, "What have I done!" Fifteen minutes before I was "on," I went to the restroom, barricaded myself in a stall and did deep breathing exercises to steady my racing heart, telling myself "you can do this," assuring myself how great I was going to be, that what I said was bound to help at least one writer in the audience in some way and make all the angst I was suffering worthwhile. I'm happy to report that the talk went well. I enjoyed myself. The next time I was asked to give a presentation, I repeated the above process, but it was all a little easier, a little less terrifying and time consuming. And each successive time was easier still.

Today I absolutely love giving workshops, teaching writing and creativity classes, and talking to writers, readers and students. It enriches my life. I never would've known that and would've missed out on so much if I hadn't stepped out of my comfort zone back when I sold my first book!

The point of all this? Recently, when I was asked to do two squirm-inducing things that, in the past, I've tried to avoid like a visit to the dentist, I said, "Sure, why not?" The first was an interview for the blog radio show A Book and A Chat, with host, Barry Eva. (You can't practice for an interview. Who knows what the host will ask? Besides, my West Texas accent makes Reba McEntire sound like a Yankee.What if Barry Eva can't understand me, or me him? His English accent is as pronounced as my Texas one.) The second was a video of me talking about writing for the Texas Library Association's Spirit of Texas Reading Program. (I'm hyper-critical of myself on camera. I make funny, twitchy faces.) What the heck. I did the interview and the video anyway. And I had fun!

What's the moral of this story? Push yourself to do something uncomfortable from time-to-time. As long as it's something positive, you'll learn and grow. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment. You might help or inspire someone. Chances are you'll have a great time and find out that you love doing whatever it is that once made you break out in a cold, clammy sweat just thinking about it.

A Book and a Chat with Jennifer Archer 

Spirit of Texas Reading Program/Jennifer Archer

Jennifer Archer's next YA novel, The Shadow Girl, will be released from Harper Teen 4/9/2013 and is available now for pre-order. Her book on the creativity/happiness connection, Happiness Rehab: 8 Creative Steps to a More Joyful Life is available now on Amazon. Her Samhain Retro-Romance novella, Breaking the Rules, will be available this month (11/20) as an ebook. Visit Jennifer's websites and for more information.


Jordan Dane said...

Great post, Jenny. It's hard to believe that a charming, fun person like you is so tense in front of a group. It doesn't show.

Your thoughts on stretching out of your comfort zone is how I feel about my writing. I like to push what I do, to stay on the edge of my comfort zone. That excites me & keeps each project fresh for me, so I'm always learning.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Great post Jenny! I've watched as you've grown past this fear, and you're an amazing speaker now. I'm so proud of you! :) I need lessons, BTW. LOL