Confidence can be a slippery beast. As a writer, I find it can ebb and flow like the tide, rushing in to joyfully knock me off my feet when I’m in the zone (‘Yes! this is going brilliantly!’) and then retreating to the horizon when it comes to showing my work to anyone else (‘Argh! They might think it’s rubbish!’).
Admittedly, I’m getting better at keeping my feet wet these days. When I first set up this blog two and a half years ago I published two posts, didn’t mention to anyone that I’d written them (I’m not sure I’d even joined Twitter at that point) then within 24 hours I took them down and ran away from the blog for a whole year… and all because I was too scared of people reading ANYTHING I’d written. Even when I finally plucked up the courage to start writing and publishing posts, it took me a while longer to start posting any of my poetry or fiction because, well… what if people hated it? What if they confirmed my darkest fears and said, “Think you can write?! Ha! You’ll never get anywhere!”?
But I finally took the leap and did post my creative writing and people weren’t like that at all; they were lovely. And that’s one of the things I’ve found in the blogging world over the last eighteen months, in general, people are just that: lovely. They leave lovely comments and send lovely tweets. They support you and appreciate the support you offer them. They become your friends. Oh what a lot of time and worry I could have saved myself if I’d assumed that from the start!
I was thinking about this last week when I was lucky enough to find myself at a confidence building/media training workshop run by Jon Hammond. Now, you might be thinking ‘confidence workshop? Is that the sort of thing where you’re forced to do horrible exercises that make you really uncomfortable in order to overcome your fears?’ And I did have an awful thought en-route to the workshop that maybe I would be made to stand on a rooftop shouting “I’m a strong, confident woman!” to passers-by. Eeep. But thankfully my fears were unfounded and no rooftop declarations were necessary to ensure the sense of confidence I came out of the session with.
Jon spoke about human beings’ natural fear of new situations (which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective) and how such situations can send us into ‘fight or flight’ mode. Just as our ancestors would have reacted to the approach of a woolly mammoth with fear, we now view the prospect of public speaking – or often any other event that involves a crowd of unknown people – with the same fear. We spoke about how counter-productive this is – you’re never going to give the best presentation or make the best impression on people when you’re viewing them as a hoard of marauding beasts that need to be escaped from or jabbed with a spear!
Although the workshop was based around public speaking I think this idea applies equally well to confidence about writing. Ok, the actual writing bit doesn’t usually have us running scared but what’s the point of being writer if no one ever reads anything we write? And it’s the ‘being read’ that normally provokes those flight or flight responses. Sometimes we give up before we’ve even tried, view our potential readers as those scary beasts and don’t even put our work out there.
To overcome some of this, rather than seeing an audience as a threat, Jon suggested that when meeting new people – or putting ourselves in front of an audience of any sort – we think of them as friends. That we approach them as ourselves and not put up a false-front based on how we think we should be behaving. That we don’t wind ourselves up beforehand about how awful it’s going to be but instead tell ourselves ‘oh, this is going to be enjoyable, I’m going to have some lovely chats.’ or something of the sort.
Obviously this is easier said than done for those of us who tend to lurk by the snack table at the back. But thinking both positively and logically, the chances are, when you approach people in a friendly way (rather than avoiding conversation and hoping to be mistaken for a pot plant) they will reciprocate. As I discovered with blogging, despite my fear of looking like a talentless idiot, most people don’t remotely treat you this way. If you’re friendly, they’ll be friendly back. And before you know it you’re just talking to friends and, well, what’s scary about that?
Still, when Jon first encouraged us to take this approach I think there was a certain amount of ‘yeah, great, but that’s easy for you to say, you’re all confident and stuff – this comes naturally to you’. And who could blame us? But nope. Turns out Jon’s shy. You’d never believe it because he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t act like it because he’s realised this approach works and he’s used it… and in using it, it’s become second nature. You know that whole thing about ‘when you act a part for long enough then it stops being acting’? That. Only all you need to do is act like the natural self you are with family and friends. You’re just having the confidence to be that you with people you don’t know.
Another thing that helped me here was Jon’s message to ‘be your audience.’ Whether you’re doing a presentation to a room full of people, going before a small interview panel, or submitting a book to an agent, think of things from their point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Empathise. It’s much easier to make a connection with people that way and the idea of them as friends immediately feels more genuine.
There was masses more involved in the workshop (and Jon has written a book about his methods if you’re interested) but a final message that resonated for me was if you’re nervous about a situation or a decision, to challenge yourself with, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. Many of us live our lives held back by various fears, imagining somehow that if we say this or do that then someone might laugh at us, or be mean, or that we’ll feel stupid etc. etc. ad infinitum. The reality is often far from this and we could be missing out on all sorts of positive possibilities: that someone might find us funny (in a good way) or be kind to us or make us feel really clever or appreciated. We miss out on so much because we’re scared. I know I have done.
But not anymore!
Well… at least let’s say it’s the start of my journey to that destination anyway. I was certainly on a bit of a high after the session. I felt really inspired and imbued with a sense of, ‘Yes! I can do this! I WILL get published!’ Half way through the drive home I almost pulled into a layby to record the awesome ideas of awesomeness I was convinced would take me to my own book signings within the year.
Of course I calmed down and reality set in. Book signings are still a distant dream and my ideas now seem only tinged with a glint of awesomeness rather than being being the all-out dazzling awesome I considered at the time. But, BUT, that little tinge is enough. The fire has been lit under the idea and it’s now flickering away enticingly. A plan has begun to form in my mind. It involves limericks and illustrations and self-publishing. It involves educating, developing and promoting myself. It involves ‘becoming my audience’, working out what they need and how to give it to them. And most of all it involves not being scared.
What’s the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen is that I never have the confidence to try.
And that, my friends, is quite simply not an option.
***I just wanted to share this stuff with you. This is not in any sense a sponsored post (although Jon, If you’re reading, I do like After Eights )***