Talking About My Writing At Conferences, by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)
It can be really jarring being an author. It seems perfect for a quiet, unassuming shy fellow (that’s me). You sit in a room and type out words; you write stories and create worlds; you can play around, say all the things you think and live the life you want, all from the comfort of your home, maybe with a muffin and a cup of coffee. You create that wonderful book; you get an agent; you get a publisher; your book is released; and you’ve communicated with the whole world and touched so many lives, all from your computer screen.
Then you get the call: “We’ve booked you to speak at a teacher’s conference in Chicago next month, start packing!”
Speak?! Teacher’s conference?! My high school English teachers would spit out their water if they knew I was even writing a book! I have to somehow teach THEM something? Speak???
This thought process loops for weeks, getting louder, with pounding echoes. I write! Not speak! These are two exceptionally different skill sets. People who are great writers and great speakers still amaze me. I imagine if you can speak well, if you’re that social and outgoing, then you wouldn’t be the type to do the actual quiet writing part. That’s the case for myself, at least. I got just such a call. In fact, when I’d written Happyface I had to do a book release party in my hometown, an English teacher’s conference in Chicago, a librarian conference in Pennsylvania and another teacher conference in Texas. I was petrified.
I’d never been one to raise my hand in class, or volunteer to read a passage, or for any reason choose to stand in front of a class. In most of those cases, you’d be expected to talk for a few minutes. Here I was supposed to talk to a quiet room for 20, 30 or 40 minutes!
Imagine, if you will, a montage sequence, set to the music of your choosing. I’m listing every noteworthy event that happened in the creation of the book; thinking about all the conversations I had with my editor; searching desperately for any little nugget of information I can pad out a half hour with; creating any artwork I can to at least divert a few eyes off of me; and getting on a plane, sitting in a hotel room, reading over notes and timing myself.
So much of the anxiety is just getting to ‘the moment’. I guarantee you the five minutes before a speech are always worse than the five minutes after beginning a speech, and the five minutes after a speech can be near-euphoric.
One thing that bridges the ‘speaker’ and the ‘writer’ is that it’s the actual writing you’re speaking about. I never had to recite someone else’s work or talk about something I didn’t care about, and that helps. I can’t say I’m the best speaker, but each time I’ve gotten through it.
Oddly enough, those times end up being the memories I look back on the most at the end of the year. I think to myself, “I’m a WRITER, not a SPEAKER!” I just want to WRITE. At the end of a trip like that, I think back, talking with other authors, speaking about my books, traveling, signing, hearing from people who’ve read my stuff, wrapped up in a whirlwind of activity all centered around not only books but MY books, those things I spent all that time writing. I have to remember, that this is part of being a writer, or the public version of a writer. That’s when I’m in full on glamorous author mode, when being an author seems like a really cool gig. I go home after that and it takes a few days to adjust. Suddenly everything feels kind of empty and confusing. Why isn’t anyone coordinating my travel, driving me around, ordering me food? Does anyone want me to sign something? I’ve got a pen…
At the end of the day, you write to finish your book and you talk to sell it. It’s creative; it’s a business; it’s a strange, bizarre world being an author, but you do it and you love it.
Stephen Emond’s author website: www.stephenemond.com
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