Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Public Speaking, Selling and Submitting

Welcoming poets to CWP at Phillips and Lloyd Books in Hayesville, NC


In the 1980's I took the Dale Carnegie Course on Public Speaking. I was not planning to make speeches, but I was embarking on a new career -- sales. Confident to speak before a group of young children, my self-esteem took a tumble when I stood before a room full of adults. My company paid for my once-a-week class.

Speaking in public is considered one of the highest stressors we encounter in life. I certainly agree. The first time I spoke before my classmates in the Carnegie course, my knees shook and my voice quavered. All of us were nervous and even though we soon became comfortable with each other, it took awhile before we were able to stand and deliver our weekly speeches without trembling hands. With the help of an encouraging teacher, we learned to give a five minute talk without stumbling. At the end of the eight weeks, we left there feeling better about oursleves.

In that class I learned to use affirmations to build confidence. When my confidence is lagging, I remember Jessie, a tall dark man, who stood before his mirror each day, after he was dressed and ready to go to work, and repeated this mantra: I look good! I feel good!! He said those words over and over until he convinced himself he was ready to go out and meet the world. His classmates laughed, but we knew Jessie was on the right track.

My work in sales was the hardest job I've ever done. I worked to psyche myself up before every customer call. I feared being told no. It was hard to leave the business without an order, but I forced a smile on my face and a friendly good-by when I wanted to hang my head and slump out to my car.

Speaking before a group of strangers, or having the confidence to convince customers to buy a product, is similar to making ourselves send out our writing for the first time. We have to have enough self-confidence to submit our work knowing it may be rejected. In fact it is likely it will be rejected. We can't take it personally when we receive a form letter saying "this doesn't fit our needs at this time." Sometimes we want to throw the writing in the trash -- give up and decide to write just for ourselves and never let anyone see our work again.
It's difficult to judge our own work. That's why I like to have another writer or a group of writers I trust, look at my work before I submit it. I might not change a thing, but I might see my poem or essay in a different light.
I've talked with writers, authors and poets, and even those who are considered successful, seldom feel totally confident about their work. They always wonder if this novel or book of poems will be accepted by the publisher or by the public. That self-doubt lurks in all of us, even those who appear quite self-assured and even pompous.

Whatever the plateau of success, writers seem to need validation. Poet, Dana Wildsmith, in an interview, said, "But I also think it's not limited just to writing. Any time we are investing huge amounts of time and energy into something that doesn't (at least at first) come with a paycheck as validation, we need some other form of validation that we aren't being foolish or wasting our time- and the validation which seems to hold the most weight is affirmation from someone more established in the art."

After all, we create to communicate with the public. We want to know we have been successful. If our work is published (made public) where people can see it, if we are paid for that work, that is validation. If we are praised by "the right people" that is validation. If we receive awards or win prizes, that is also validation.

For a number of years I regularly submitted my poetry and essays. I needed to see my work accepted by editors to feel good about it. I have a folder full of rejections in my files, along with a goodly number of acceptances. I can take rejections in stride. I think my procrastination and my perfectionism are the major reasons I don't print my stories, essays and poems, take them to the post office and send them out tomorrow. I procrastinate because the work is not quite yet perfect. Will it ever be?

Not likely. So my manuscripts sleep in a file on my computer. And I do most of my writing on blogs. But, hey, I'm having fun.

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