For most of the human race, fear of public speaking is right up there with the fear of death. Strangely enough, I can’t remember a time when it was ever an issue for me. As far back as elementary school, I don’t remember having any such hesitation.
In fact, I remember distinctly that for whatever reason, I was something of a ham. On one occasion, my friends and I decided to do a parody of the “Life” cereal commercials and perform it in front of class. I was the narrator, and came in holding a cereal box that cleverly had the word “Death” pasted over its original name. One of my friends was the eater of the cereal, and took a big bite before faking her own demise. Then, a third friend came in with a black, hooded robe and a plastic scythe. Our catchphrase was “Death—it’s grim!” We were a big hit with our class and went on to coin such products as “Tic-Tics—now made with real tics!” and “Gone soap—you’re so clean, you’re invisible!”
A few years later, in high school, some friends and I put together a presentation that answered the question: What would happen if Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Laura Wingfield (The Glass Menagerie), and Conrad Jarrett (Ordinary People) were friends? I played Laura, and was extremely excited to scream and throw a glass on the floor during the climax of the show.
In college, we had to give presentations in our neurology class, and topics were assigned at random. I acted like I had won the lottery when I got “botulism” as my topic. Most of my class just recited their reports, but I chose to put on a sock-puppet play, starring the villain Count Clostridium Botulinum and the tragic hero Sally, who had to deal with food-borne botulism, infant botulism, and wound botulism. Needless to say, I got an A+.
As an adult, I nominated my best friend for the TLC show What Not to Wear, and appeared quite a lot in her episode. I was on national television and did not have the slightest hesitation or bit of nervousness at putting myself out in public in front of so many people.
Why is it then, that when it comes to my writing, the plague of self-consciousness strikes? Recently, a friend brought it to my attention that in an Amazon review of one of my books, someone had made a factual error. She asked if I had seen it and wanted to correct the poster. My response was no on both counts. I hadn’t noticed it because I never read any reviews of my books, and I didn’t want to correct it because I continue to have no desire to read any.
I’m not sure why it is that I don’t fear personal mockery, but do fear mockery of my writing. I had a friend who once told me he wouldn’t dance in public because he feared he looked silly, but had no problem belting out out-of-tune songs at karaoke. When I asked him why one thing bothered him while the other did not, he couldn’t explain it—just like I cannot explain it.
For whatever reason, my fiction writing makes me feel more open than anything else. Is it because these characters live in my head every day, all day (and night) and when my writing is criticized in a non-constructive way I feel like I’m being attacked at the most primal level? I don’t know. All I can do is continue to do what makes me happy, which is to write without mulling over what other people think.