I am afraid of people.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit broad. How about, I’m afraid of talking to people I don’t know but want to make a good impression on? Like seriously terrified. My brain shuts down, and I lose the ability to think coherently. All I can do is smile and babble, which strangely makes for a good job interview, but not much else.
For instance, I once was sitting in an airport after a writing convention and happened to find myself next to an editor who struck up a conversation with me and seemed genuinely interested in hearing about what I was writing. I proceeded to blather on about how I had been writing for years but most of what I had written to date was terrible. The editor looked absolutely crestfallen, like I’d kicked her puppy. I backtracked in a lame attempt to fix the situation. It wasn’t pretty.
I have been known to bring a conversation to a screeching halt in ten seconds flat like a sad little nerd trying to add something to the cool kids’ conversation by interjecting an anecdote that only marginally has to do with what they’re talking about. You know that kid. The one everyone stops to stare at only to then continue on with the conversation as if nothing had happened?
Yeah, that’s me. I think I might have been in my room reading the Exorcist when they covered those social skills when I was a child. I think this has made me a bit creepy on occasion as a result.
This has, as you might imagine, had a detrimental effect on my networking skills. I have in the past spent entire conventions and conferences without speaking to another human being besides the hotel staff. Not the most effective way of spending time and money or get ahead in a writing career.
Yet, I kept going to events that caught my fancy, trying to figure out how to get out of my own way. My better experiences usually came when I attended writer’s retreats, which forced me to talk to people. I’ve been told I just need to practice, only it’s hard to practice anything when your brain’s shorting out and everyone’s watching you like they want some warning before you pull out the tinfoil hat and break into a dance number.
My single biggest success was when I decided to attend the first Superstars Writing Seminar. Being the first seminar, I had no idea what to expect, and honestly, I went because of the presenters rather than the unique content being provided. I met some of my favorite people there, all with a common purpose and at the same level career-wise regardless of our writing talent. From that one decision to keep attending conferences despite my personal deficiencies, I found comrades in arms that I have come to think of as friends and I’m now sitting here writing a post that others will read. Good things happened.
I’m not over my social anxiety, of course. I still have problems dealing with strangers, but I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to manage my issues. If I can find people I know at an event, that helps. If not, I continue to go to workshops and retreats, in person if possible, to force myself to speak to people.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I may ever get over it completely. I don’t have a happy ending about how I’m all better now, unfortunately. But I think the point is to keep trying, to be happy when good things happen, and not to get down on myself when they don’t. I think that last is the hardest part. I do what I can, and in the meantime keep writing and hope that my work might possibly do my best talking for me–even if personally I am always a bit lacking.