I hate talking about myself. I do. I really hate it.
I’m not a talker; I’m a writer. When, in conversation, someone turns to me and wants to know all about me, I freeze up, I get shy, I try to say as little as possible and then I change the subject, trying to turn it back to them or onto something else, anything but having to talk about me.
Which is more than usually weird because a lot of people want to know about me, and rightfully so — I’m doing a lot of cool stuff, if I do say so myself. Some people even think that whole book-writing thing is a kind of magic.
And yet … talking is so hard for me. Self-promotion is so hard for me.
Someone at the Promoting Passion creativity convention last October asked me what the name of my blog was. It was a perfect opportunity to pass along a business card, which I had in my bag, right at my feet — but I didn’t. I couldn’t make myself do it, no matter how much I knew I needed to. She was asking me for it, and I still couldn’t give her what she wanted.
So if you feel this way, too, if you struggle with talking about yourself and, more importantly, your creative work, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Not everybody is a salesy extrovert. Lots of us aren’t.
But this is an area where it’s wise to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, especially if you’re a creative entrepreneur and you want to make some money making art. Talking about yourself and your work and what you’re trying to do with it — even your mistakes — gets you so much good stuff that you just won’t get if you don’t, like:
You learn to face your fears and get feedback that can help you keep facing them.
Because what really happens when you share? When you talk about who you are and the work that you do? Is it as bad as you feared? I mean, the worst that can happen is that the person you’re talking to doesn’t really get it, right? And who cares? So that person is not going to be one of your 1,000 true fans. No big deal. Let’s have a chat with the next person at the table now. Because somewhere out there is someone else who will tell you things like, “You’re a better writer than [best-selling fantasy author] Terry Goodkind” and “You strike me as the kind of person who could write her own ticket.” (Both things that have been said to me by supporters of mine, both insanely awesome compliments.)
I went to my father’s company Christmas party a couple of weeks ago in Tucson, AZ. In previous years, I wouldn’t have expected a single person to be interested in what I do; it’s a dialysis reprocessing products company. But this time, when people asked about me, I shared what I’m working on, and I listened to their responses. I added six new subscribers to my email list as a result. Two of those people said, in no uncertain terms, “I will buy your novel.” One of them was very interested in my book about how to write a novel.
You never know who’s going to turn out to be a supporter of yours. Be open to finding them anywhere.
If one of the hardest things about talking about yourself is the drain on your energy, I hear you there, too. Brooke Shaden of Promoting Passion recently asked for video entries to a contest in which she asked, “What’s your biggest fear that holds you back creatively?” My answer was “talking to people,” but it’s not because I’m scared of their judgment. It’s that I’m scared of what it will mean for my quiet time, my alone time, my little corner of the universe being constantly interrupted by the chitter-chatter of other voices. This is a consequence of any level of success and support. I must learn to protect that world in a way that honors the support I’m being offered. I don’t know how to do it yet, exactly, but I will learn, and so will you. (And in the meantime, please forgive me for not having answered your Facebook message yet.)
You get better at talking.
When I was growing up, self-publishing was sort of a dirty word among writers. Nobody self-published unless they were an overbearing grandparent who had written “the most amazing story ever” for their grandchild. It wasn’t what professionals did. Professionals left promotion to their publishers. You could be a writer who sat alone in her garret with just her imagination for company and never really had to learn how to talk. Or so I thought, anyway.
But things are very different now. Plenty of professionals self-publish, and that’s what I’m planning to do. That makes it impossible for me to stay in my garret. I’m my own publisher and publicist.
If you want to be a creative entrepreneur, you’re going to have to be able to talk. To people, about your work. You might even have to give a speech or a workshop. Heck, who knows, you might find yourself giving a TED talk someday. (This is on my list of distant future goals … maybe. Don’t tell anyone, though; I’m not ready for them to know.) You might as well jump in now. I considered joining my local Toastmasters, but I think I’m going to push myself one step further even — I’m going to lead my own workshop this year. Because why not? I have all the tools I need. It’s going to be about getting over self-doubt for writers and creators. Want to come?
You go deeper with other people.
Staying on the surface is boring. Staying on the surface is like living in Stepford. Staying on the surface doesn’t serve either your creativity or your life.
Open up about what’s important to you, and find out what’s important to them. To practice this (and avoid small talk, because let’s be honest, who really enjoys talking about the weather?), try asking deeper questions right away. Don’t ask people what they do or where they live; instead ask:
- What are you excited about right now?
- What are you passionate about? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
- What’s your hope for the future?
- What makes you who you are?
The answers you get will be more interesting for both of you, and you might find that you have more in common than you would have guessed.
You inspire other people.
I’ve written about Brooke Shaden a lot, because she inspires me by being vulnerable and open and genuine. Her images are what first attracted me, with their exploration of darkness. They reminded me of something I might have created back when I was in high school, that I would stop myself from making now, that I would tell myself isn’t good enough. But she made me one of her 1,000 true fans by writing with a deep willingness to spill everything. She consistently talks about her fears, about what’s hard about what she’s trying to do, and about what isn’t working, but she never does it in a negative way. She’s always pushing through and moving on and hoping and working. I can look to Brooke and know that what I hope for in my life is possible to achieve.
When you share your struggles and your mistakes and what you’ve learned, you can be that person for others who need you, and nobody can do it in the exact way you can, so you’ll pull the people toward you who truly appreciate your style.
Standing up to share your story makes you more memorable — which draws people to you and your work.
At the Promoting Passion convention, photographer Brendan Harvey asked for a volunteer to come up to the front of the room and do an exercise with him during his workshop. At motivational speaker and relationship advisor Matthew Hussey’s live event in September, he also asked for a volunteer to come on stage — specifically one who tends to shut down rather than talk to her man about difficulties she’s having. In both of these cases, I really wanted to raise my hand. I really wanted to be the one to go up on stage. That’s already progress from when I was younger and wanted to disappear into a cubbyhole whenever someone asked for volunteers, but I still didn’t raise my hand. I still didn’t end up on stage.
But I thought, at Brendan Harvey’s workshop, of the woman who did raise her hand and did end up on stage — everyone in this room now knows who she is. Everyone may not end up making friends with her or following her work, but she has given everyone the chance to, by being brave enough to raise her hand and go up on stage. If I want to be a better blogger and self-publish my books, I must give people the chance to know who I am by raising my hand and going up on stage. If I hold back, I will be left waiting in the wings, wishing and hoping instead.
You give people, even unexpected ones, the chance to tell you they appreciate what you’re doing.
I said recently to a very good friend of mine that I felt awkward and pushy about promoting my blog, like it’s all I talk about. (I hate that feeling, and I especially worry about it with the people I’m closest to because I know they follow a lot of my Facebook posts.) But this friend is someone I trust to give me the straight-up truth, every time. She’d never put a fake positive spin on something. She is, to put it lightly, a cynic.
Know what she said to me?
“No. You’re doing something good for people. You’re giving them something they need.”
That’s it, that’s all there was to it, and it made all the difference to me. I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over that feeling of squidginess at being a pushy promoter and salesperson, but the fact that this friend saw that and said it to me helped me take a second and refocus. It helped me to look at it in a new way — hey, I am offering you something that may or may not help you. It is up to you whether you take it or not. But I would be remiss not to offer, when it could be as important to you as Brooke Shaden’s deeply personal posts are to me.
Plus, you know, people are not paying as much attention to you as you think they are. People are pretty self-obsessed, actually, and you can jabber at them a lot and if what you’re talking about isn’t something they need right now, they’ll pretty well tune you out without even noticing.
I follow author Gretchen Rubin on Facebook and she recently apologized for doing too much promotion for her newest book, Better Than Before. What promotion? I said. I hadn’t seen a thing before that. I wasn’t the slightest bit bothered and was actually probably more put off that she would apologize for promoting her work than any actual promoting she might do. (I’m seeing a lot now and am still not bothered. And I already tried to read the book and didn’t like it. I follow her because I really enjoyed her first book, The Happiness Project.)
Here’s the thing: No one else is going to talk about you for you, so if you don’t do it, no one is going to know all the cool stuff you’re doing. Plus, no one else can talk about you as well as you. You know all the cool stuff you’re doing inside and out and you know how it’s cool and you love it. Let your love for it show, and other people will begin to feel its warmth and want to be a part of it, even if it’s in as simple a way as buying what you made or recommending you to a friend who might like your work.
If you’re trying to get better at talking about yourself and your work, here are a few resources that might help:
Introvert Entrepreneur by Beth Buelow
The Art of Self-Promotion: 6 Tips for Getting Your Work Discovered (about Austin Kleon’s book, above)
What’s the best project you’re working on right now, the one you’re the most excited about? Talk to us about it!