I’m shy. Stop that. I’m serious. I really am shy. Some people won’t believe that because I don’t have trouble talking in front of people (or behind them for that matter). One time I even spoke, then sang a song I wrote, in front about 300 people–while wearing a Viking hat and braids, but that’s a story for another day.
But there’s a difference between speaking to a group (which, on my phobia scale, is much preferred to jumping out of an airplane, thank you), and say, walking up to a group of two or three people at a social gathering and striking up a conversation. I find that much more intimidating.
Being shy and/or introverted isn’t unusual for a writer. We’d rather listen or watch (you never know when you’ll pick up a great line for your next novel). Some people are both shy and introverted, but I don’t think those two come as a boxed set. You can be introverted, but still able to interact socially without Niagara Falls of sweat running off your palms. (I differentiate being an introvert versus an extrovert by how you recharge your batteries–do you need to spend time with people or do you need time alone to feel refreshed. Pretty simple.)
What’s being shy got to do with being a writer? Well, like it or not, being a writer can (and should) involve spending time with other people–either interviewing them, socializing or networking with them or just hanging out because you need human interaction to feel alive. Plus, hanging out with people often provides inspiration for your writing, so there’s that.
Here’s what I want to suggest if you struggle with shyness . . . keep it a secret. Now, when you were a kid, you may have gotten the idea that your last name was “She’s shy,” because that’s what everyone (aka, your mom or big sister) said when they introduced you. But you’re not a kid anymore. The only one who needs to know you’re feeling shy is you. I mean, you don’t walk into the center of a livingroom full of people and announce, “Hey, y’all, I have eczema and IBS!” Please tell me you’re shaking your head. Why would you have to tell anyone you’re shy? You are free to pretend you’re a person of confidence who actually likes talking to people.
And so, the next time you (and I) are headed for a social situation, let’s own our nervousness or insecurity, then stuff it in a sack for the night. You and I can be the person who focuses on putting other people at ease. They will love us for it and we can forget about shy selves already.
One more secret . . . if you can get someone talking about themselves, you can automatically pass “GO” and collect $200. I can almost guarantee it. They will think you’re the most fabulous listener and amazing person, and all you have to do is nod and smile and keep the questions coming. Even something as simple as “So, have you always lived in ______________?” can get a conversation going (and going and going . . .).
What if the person you decide to try to talk to is also shy? Well, then, I suggest you excuse yourself, go to the buffet, load up your plate, find a comfy spot by a potted palm in the corner and spend the rest of the evening in a blissful state of eavesdropping. You think I’m kidding don’t you?
I promise to keep your secret, if you’ll keep mine. And I solemnly promise, if I see you at a party hunkered down by a big plant with a plate of meatballs, I will come up to you and strike up a conversation, after all, I’m not shy. Wink. Wink.
So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them. ~ Sylvia Plath