Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What? Terry is shy?

Yes, I’m shy.

Lots of people find that hard to believe but it’s true. When I was in high school my wife had to invite ME out. I don’t order pizza, don’t take things back to the store and in a restaurant if they serve me a bad meal I won’t complain, I just won’t go back.

Then in college I had a speech teacher take me in hand and help me develop a public persona, and in that mode THAT GUY could do the things I couldn’t do. Johnny Carson was the same way, terribly shy off camera, when he puffed out his chest and got into character he was the ultimate entertainer.

I discovered that it is very common among writers as they tend to be people who are more comfortable expressing themselves in writing than verbally. Then I discovered that outgoing people often needed to develop such a persona as well, not because they were shy, but in order to understand how they needed to present themselves as professional writers. We all play different roles in our lives depending on where we are and what we are doing. It just makes sense that we would give thought to how we would present ourselves in a professional writing situation.

I’ve been leading a course on this for a lot of years now and people who have gone through it tell me it really helped them. I know it helped me. Some people actually change and become more outgoing, but my nature is still shy, it is just easier after all of these years to slip into my professional persona. If I’m not in it I am more likely to be sitting quietly on the sidelines, just watching what is going on. I just finished leading the course at a conference and at present am doing it as a month long online course for the American Christian Fiction Writers.

Sometimes it is useful to actually dress different to make the switch easier. One woman told me she bought a set of black, sexy underwear that she only wore when she was in writer mode to help her made the switch. I told her that was too much information but I hoped she was letting her husband in on it.

As for me I like to dress western, but I dress a little more so when I am in character. George Bush sent me some sort of stimulus check and I used it to buy a Gold Edition Stetson. I only wear it for special occasions or when I am being the writer or agent. How could a guy not be confident under a hat like that? People have gotten to the point where they ask me where the hat is if they come into a meeting and I don’t have it on.

I was talking to a group of my clients online, however, and they pointed out that I did the hat, belt buckle, boots and a nice western jacket as my ‘brand’ but then I carried a normal briefcase. “It doesn’t work,” they said, “you need to throw saddlebags over your shoulder, not carry a briefcase.” At one conference I attended a guy that was there to do a Will Rogers impersonation carried saddlebags over his shoulder, maybe they have something there. I ordered a pair and we’ll see how that goes.

I’m on a mission to help all fellow shy writers learn to step beyond their limitations.


Timothy Fish said...

That makes sense. When I was a teenager, I thought I was shy because I didn’t have that outgoing persona when I interacted with people. In college, I was listening to someone talking about shy people and what he described didn’t fit what I knew about myself. What I’ve found is that I’m reserved, but not shy. My silence comes from thinking before I speak, not from fear of speaking. But one of the things I’ve noticed is that many people who have a persona of being more outgoing describe themselves as shy. I suspect they are doing what you are talking about, hiding their shyness behind a persona of outgoingness.

Parenting Expert Brenda Nixon said...

Yes, I know you like to dress western. You are authentic; a southern gentleman.

I started out as a professional speaker on parenting (still speak at family conferences, events, etc) and morphed into a writer and radio host. So I'm not the typical shy writer but I know plenty who are.

Enjoy that Gold Edition Stetson.

Anonymous said...

This new persona practice also explains why many shy people can also become teachers. I am more reserved or soft spoken, than actually shy, but people who do not know me in a classroom are sometimes surprised when they see "Ms. Dixon" instead of just Katie.

Susan Hollaway said...

I really enjoyed your workshops at the Called to Write conference in Kansas, Terry.

I used to be terribly shy as a youngster, but became more outgoing after working as a waitress in high school. I love a good visit, but the idea getting up in front of a group of people and speaking is daunting to me. Most people would never believe I have moments of shyness, but I still do. Sometimes you just have to fake it 'til you make it, I guess.

As a 4-H leader, I have to get up and make announcements and speak to our club (youth and parents) as a whole. Everyone always says I look relaxed and natural, but I don't FEEL like that. Inside I'm shakin' in my shoes and feel like I trip over my tongue a lot.

I so admire those that can just get up and speak in front of a group of people and it not bother them a bit.

Timothy Fish said...

I think it helps to give up the notion that anyone can get up in front of a group and not feel some degree of nervousness. That comes from the desire to make a good impression. I’ve been in front of crowds of several hundred people and felt only the smallest amount of nerves and I’ve been very nervous in front of five people (and vice versa). We can’t keep the nerves from coming, but we can learn to handle them when they come. What works for me is to look at people’s faces. If I feel nervous before I get up, I’ll sit on the front row or on stage and take what time I can to look at the faces of the people in the group before I get up.

Dee Yoder said...

I understand shy, Terry. It is easier for me, also, to adopt an outgoing personality though I am not naturally that way. But I do like to find out about others, so that sometimes helps spur me on in personal conversations.

Linda Glaz said...

Gee, shy? I'm not sure if I am or not, or wait, that WAS me who almost threw up having dinner at your table at ACFW two years ago, right? Guess I'm glad I got over that!!!

Katherine Hyde said...

And then of course one must eat a couple of Powdermilk Biscuits before going out in persona--they give shy persons the strength to get out and do what has to be done.

Terry Burns said...

Powdermilk biscuits, now there's a new one on me

Katherine Hyde said...

What? You never listened to Prairie Home Companion? Powdermilk Biscuits is one of the fake sponsors, along with Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery.

Susan Hollaway said...

Thanks. I'll have to file that advice away for future reference. I'll remember that in front of the 4-H crowd too.