Thursday, September 19, 2019

Public speaking and writing

The two really shouldn't have to go together. I like to joke I went into writing so I could tuck myself away in a corner of my home and write by myself, just a cat on my lap and a cup of hot tea eternally going cold at my side. 

However, that is not the case when one enters publishing.

Life in general did not prepare me well enough for public speaking as an adult in publishing, though I suspect this is more of a personal character flaw than anything. In elementary school, for example, I recall my inaugural experiences with public speaking assignments. It was usually something simple, like the obligatory show-and-tell. 

Simple. Ha.

I lost sleep.

A shy kid without much socialization, and a crippling fear of anything attention-bringing to myself, the thought of having a classroom of my peers and teacher watch me stand there and talk brought me into fits of not eating or getting much rest. I’d agonize and worry, fuss and consider methods of which to feign sickness so my mother wouldn’t send me to school that day. 

Yet, somehow, I survived those years and the two to three minute public speaking endeavors that were sprinkled throughout. I can still recall, with startling clarity, my fifth grade book report of The Secret Garden. We were to speak on the book, why we enjoyed it or didn’t, and bring a brown paper sack including five items that brought to mind the book and its themes. I had an ornate key, a packet of seeds, a small plastic spade, a rose and a necklace. Apparently my items did not convey the book well. A boy in my class asked, “So, in general, what was the book about?” It was the first time I’d been asked a question during a public speaking event and I froze. I stumbled over my words, “It’s…it’s about a girl…who finds a garden.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett would be ashamed of me. 

In junior high and high school, we had entire classes dedicated to public speaking. It got easier. One course would follow in college. I recall making it past sophomore year and thinking I was finally in the clear of those graded speaking engagements. 

I was not. 

As part of my major - geology, if you’re wondering - regular public speaking reports were the norm. We would be in front of the classes several times per week. I actually got remotely good at it. Even in my job at the time, I was able to give speeches for a community awards banquet we hosted.

As graduation passed and I eased into a new job - publishing and small-time authorship, my world became smaller again, however. It wasn’t until my debut book release put on by the publisher that I’d have to speak in front of a crowd again - about my writing of all things - several years past those days in college. I recall getting to my book party and immediately bypassing the room to the bathroom where I dropped out of my heels and dry-heaved for a good 15 minutes. My best friend covered for me until I was ready to come out. I’d hold a reading that evening, and several more in the months to come. While I’d like to say it got easier, it was still hard. Talking about writing or my pathway to writing are still difficult subjects for me, albeit ones I love. 

The first book award I won, I recall sitting at the awards banquet, my lunch in front of me untouched, while I wrung my hands and swore I’d never publish another book again just so I could avoid the public speaking aspect. 

That did not hold true, thankfully. 

I’d like to say it’s gotten easier as I’ve gone - but I still have a hard time with public attention. There was a time, however, when it was okay, in college, as I mentioned. So it can be done! Practice makes perfect, and gaining confidence, and speaking with conviction on whatever topic it is at hand are all tips I think helped me at that time. And of course, pretty well being forced to. 

Every now and again, it is worth it to push our boundaries and step outside those comfort zones. Who knows. You may even find a secret garden. 

Happy reading!

A.M. Bostwick

Source: Literary Gardner

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