cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Essay: Performance Anxiety by cupidsbow

Performance Anxiety an admission of guilt by cupidsbow

This morning, I had an epiphany about my writing (or more specifically, about publishing my writing on LiveJournal), and as is so often the case with epiphanies, it was equal parts horror, terror and a grudging sense of relief that at least now I knew what the problem was.

The problem was this: stage fright.

What? You didn't know I was having a problem with publishing my writing on LiveJournal? Well that would be because I've not mentioned it. I didn't want to come across as one of those whiny writers that's all "Woe, woe, it's so hard being an artist," because most of the time I love being an artist, despite all the hard work, heartache and poverty that tends to go along with it.

Given how much I love writing, I have to tell you I was kind of shocked to find out I was suffering from stage fright. I mean, me! With performance anxiety! It seems beyond the realms of the probable and heading straight into science-fiction territory. But there it is.

As always, when I discover something new about the writing process, I want to discuss it, even though it's a topic which is likely to come off as "Poor Me, It's So Hard Being Popular." And let's face it, that's never a pretty look.

I've decided to risk coming off as a self-pitying hack anyway, because I think the issue of how a writer responds to being read is, well, pretty central to the experience of writing and publishing, whether it's here on LJ, or in the original fiction market. To do that I'm going to have to discuss how I'm feeling. I'll try to keep it brief.

I first knew something was up when all these almost-finished stories started piling up on my hard drive. I've always been bad at finishing long works-in-progress, because I inevitably get interrupted by real life, and then lose momentum and interest. What was different this time was that the unfinished stories were stand-alones, and they were pretty much complete except for the final chapter. Why? I wondered. Why can't I finish these fucking stories and get them off my plate? It took a long time to realise it was because once the stories were finished, I'd have to publish them... and I was feeling amazingly anxious about that.

When I've experienced stage fright in the past it's been due to live performances, either acting or public speaking. There seems to be a pretty solid rule about when it kicks in, too. I'm fine with groups of up to 30 or so (classroom size), but as soon as the audience is larger than that there's some kind of perception switch in my head, and I get the full-on jitters: sweaty hands, dry mouth, stuttering, the shakes. Of course, I go ahead and do the performance anyway, and it's usually fine, and even when it's not (the equipment stuffing up or whatever), I soldier on and it all works out. I come out of it buzzed and pleased that I communicated with the audience.

Well, I've had that tight-chested, sweaty-palmed feeling for the last couple of weeks months, so maybe I should have recognised it sooner with regard to publishing on LJ. I didn't though, and I think that's because I've always felt comfortable with this space. It's been my experimental zone throughout my PhD, and I think that was reflected in my flist, because of lot of the people who became my friends back then were interested in the wiggy stuff I tried, like NudeWriting, or all those Lotrips stories with unlikely combinations of techniques. I was lucky that way: my fanfiction and essays were read, right from the start. But I was even luckier than I realised, I can see in hindsight, because I was read by just a moderate number of people, not enough to freak me out.

So why the freak out now?

Recently, my flist has tipped over the 300 mark. That shouldn't have been a particularly significant event. What's so magical about 300? It's not like you're all reading every word I type, and in and of itself, I don't think this was the issue. However, I have two other journals, and their flists have both tipped over 100. Then, recently, I found all these people bookmarking my stories on delicious. Again, so what? I put my work out there to be read, and I wanted it to be read, and it's great that it is being read.

Put all those things in combination and suddenly the picture changed... suddenly it felt like I was being looked at by--WHOA!--hundreds and hundreds of people, and that's not even taking into account the whole lurker thing.

(Dear Flist: I just want to take a moment to stress that I don't want anyone to defriend just because I'm having a Writing Crisis. This isn't about you! You're all wonderful and I'm lucky to have you in my life. This crisis is all about me ;)

The thing about stage fright, though, is that it's not about logic. Somehow I've tipped over that magic performance threshold, and oh God! I'm out here on a bare stage with just my words to keep everyone entertained! It's terrifying.

The real irony of this situation is that my Big Dream is a pretty typical one: I want to make a living as a writer. That's what all this learning-how-to-write business has been in aid of (I don't mean fandom, I mean the PhD). But somehow it had never sunk home, on a gut level, what it would feel like to be read by, potentially, hundreds of thousands of people.

I'm thinking? It would feel like this! The threshold is the threshold, so the feeling will be the same at 300,000 as it is at 300.

*crawls into a corner and panics quietly for a while*

So that's my angst-riddled crisis du jour: performance anxiety.

I'm sure I'm not alone in experiencing this. Please, let me not be alone in experiencing this!

Tell me your stories of stage fright. What happened? Have things changed over time? Did you get used to it, or start a new journal, or stop publishing, or what? Panicking minds want to know.
Tags: essay, writing
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