My First Reading
There are all these things writers do. Things besides writing. Like sometimes an author takes what they’ve written, and they read it out loud to a group of people.
This is an author reading and it’s something I never thought would happen to me. Actually, that’s not right. More accurate to say it’s something I have both hoped for (because it means success!) and dreaded (because oh my God how could I possibly read something I wrote in front of people?). I dealt with these conflicting feelings by refusing to think about readings at all.
Then I wrote a short story called There Used to Be Cowboys.
And it got accepted to an awesome local magazine called Helen.
Fast forward a few months, and the editor of Helen is asking me to read a segment of that story at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.
Like, to actual people.
Part of me was thrilled. A reading! What an honor, right? What an extremely cool thing to be asked to participate in.
Another part of me, naturally, wanted to run and hide.
I hate, hate, hate being shy. I HATE it! I hate this terrible social anxiety. I’m hate being envious of every outgoing person I meet. Why is it so easy for them? How do they manage to be so charming and interesting when I’m struggling to just figure out what to say?
My entire life has been a battle with shyness. From the time I could talk, really. I was the kid who was afraid to order for herself at the restaurant. Who wouldn’t ask an employee where in the store something was located. The kid who wouldn’t look strangers in the eye because then they might say something and make small talk and the idea of that was beyond scary.
I’m not that bad anymore. I mean, I’m able to function in society. But social stuff has never, and likely will never, come easily to me.
So, you could say the reading scared me. It scared me a lot.
But I had to do it. I’d be crazy to turn down an opportunity like that, right? And my story takes place in Las Vegas—not gambling, clubbing, party town Vegas, but my Las Vegas. I wanted to share that with people.
I already knew the editor of the magazine “got it”. She’d written me the most lovely note when she accepted the story. Her Vegas and my Vegas seemed to line up pretty closely. When she read the story, she connected with it. It’s amazing to hear you wrote something and got it right. That there’s another person out there who your story meant something to.
Anyway, no question. I was doing the reading.
It’s weird how you can want to do something and not want to do something at the exact same time. In the weeks leading up to the reading I’d get excited and look forward to it. Then, a few hours later, I’d be unable to fall asleep because I was in such a panic over everything that would certainly go wrong. Like how I’d probably stumble over my words or pronounce something wrong or fall off the stage.
I figured I would need to go on autopilot on the day of the reading. Which meant I had to know my story inside and out. I practiced like crazy. I read it so many times that I pretty much had the whole thing memorized. I knew when to look up, I knew how every word should be inflected. My way of dealing with anxiety is preparing for a situation as much as humanly possible.
I got to the festival early. There were books and people who loved books everywhere. Writers and readers and panels about interesting things. And I would have really enjoyed it if, you know, I wasn’t freaking out.
I was the first reader on the schedule. Which was probably for the best, because I was in some good company and it probably would have made me a million times more nervous and doubtful of myself if I had to listen to everyone else before reading. So, I was first, and Jocelyn, the editor of Helen gave me a wonderful introduction. And then I was on.
I didn’t run away.
My hands didn’t shake.
My voice wasn’t wobbly.
And I was so focused on not letting any of those things happen, that I forgot to adjust the mic.
But everyone said they could hear me well enough without it. So if that’s the worst that happened, I figure it went pretty well. And it’s a lesson learned for next time.
About halfway through… okay, more like near the end, I finally relaxed a little. And at that point, reading was actually fun! It wasn’t scary. No one was booing. Before I knew it the whole thing was over.
It was such a massive relief to have it out of the way. And honestly, it made me feel like a freaking super hero. Because I conquered my fear. I did a reading. How cool is that?
This is why I work so hard to overcome my shyness. Because if you give into it, and let it rule you, you miss out on so many awesome things.
So, in the end:
It was a great experience.
I met some cool people.
I got to hear some good stories.
I even learned about a new writing group starting up in Vegas that I’m going to check out.
And now I know what to expect from a reading, so next time it won’t be so terrifying. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.