advice for newly published/about to be published writers

October 23, 2013

This topic came up in casual conversation at MileHi Con.  I said “Maybe I should blog about this.”  And Dmitri said, “Yes, do it.”  So here we go:

Take an improv or an acting class.  If you don’t have a background in theater, take some kind of class that gets you on stage, gets you speaking in public and thinking on your feet.

It’s one of the terrible ironies of the world that writers — some of the most introverted, wrapped up in their own brains people — are so often asked to speak in public.  They’re asked to be entertainers — not on the page, but in person, on the fly.  And it doesn’t seem fair, but being entertaining in public really does sell books.  I know this.  (And this is why I’ll always choose being on panels over sitting at a table in the dealers room.  I’m no good at hand selling my own books.  But I can be entertaining on stage.)

If you’re a newly published/about to be published writer, and the thought of appearing on panels or giving a talk or even doing a reading terrifies you, or leaves you at a loss:  take a class.  The skills you learn, you’ll use forever.  Some of the most engaging writers you’ll meet have some kind of background in theater.  (Take it from me, once you’ve done a tap routine in a leotard in front of an audience, nothing will faze you.)

Here’s a secret:  The stage is a safe place.  If you get bad stage fright or have never appeared on stage, you probably don’t believe me, but it’s true.  There’s a social contract — you have to clap for the person on stage.  You have to respect those on the stage, because they have the courage to be up there, to step outside reality, to be bigger than life.  You can do things on stage you can’t do anywhere else, like break out in song or speak with authority, and all those people out there have to applaud you for it.

So yes.  Take an improv class so you learn to act on your feet.  Take an acting class to get over stage fright.  Both will teach you to project a persona:  the persona of the entertaining author in public.

5 Responses to “advice for newly published/about to be published writers”


  1. There’s another big benefit to getting even a little bit of acting experience: it’s excellent training for characterization and dialogue. After all, what is fiction writing but method acting on the page?

  2. ZOO Says:

    This is one of those things I struggle with every single time. I’ve taken the classes, and it is still the most nerve wracking thing I do. I am not allowed any caffeine at least an hour before I have to speak, I have to take that “deep breath” before I can get the lemmings to stop running off the cliff in my brain, and I have to have something to refer to if the nerves get too high during the presentation. And when it’s all over, I’ve been told the let down from the adrenaline is actually visible.

    When you have that kind of anxiety, no amount of training will make it go away, but those tools will help you to overcome it.

  3. carriev v. Says:

    I’m one of those crazy kids who adored being on stage and did so every chance I could get — because it was safe. I got a lot of crap in the “real world,” but the stage world was awesome and happy.

    I haven’t done any theater in a decade, but I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve used those skills as an author.

  4. Nina Else Says:

    Toastmasters is what saved me many years ago. I was president of lots of things in high school and a union officer and leader for several years – but still terrified and shaky every time I had to speak up, whether in front of a group or from within the crowd. Forced myself to join Toastmasters, and though it was very hard for what seemed a very long time, I eventually got to the point that speaking is comfortable for me most of the time.

  5. cpontius Says:

    If I didn’t know better, I’d say my boyfriend put you up to this. He’s been trying to get me into Toastmasters ever since we met.

    Oddly enough, I’ve been performing since I was 3. That’s 4 decades of baton twirling, vocal and instrumental music, tap, ballet, duet improv, humorous interp, storytelling, poetry slams, con panels, SAI Boulder, and Ignite Fort Collins. And I *still* suck at it. There is often vomiting and/or fainting involved. I don’t think there are classes for people like me.


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