It’s nothing personal, just business… Whoever wrote that obviously wasn’t an artist. Our business happens to be very personal, or at least, it can be. Artists create, and their creations are reflections of themselves. No wonder we’re so touchy when someone else wants us to incorporate their two cents.
Not long ago, I attended a writing workshop about how to create engaging book titles. I never imagined that such a benign sounding meeting could end up being so emotionally charged. The speaker asked for people to share their book titles with the group, and there were about fifty attendees. One elderly lady (we’ll call her Helen) raised her hand and shared her title. The speaker asked her to come up to the stage and stand next to her and a flip chart. The book in question was Helen’s autobiography. The story was about her journey in and out of her church and her struggles along the way. The original title was something like “From Chosen to Castaway.” The group did not go for that title. Someone said that it brought images to mind of the movie “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks. The speaker said that Tom had dibs on that intellectual memory branding for the time being. Of course, she could use the title if she liked, but she was advised that another option would make it more ‘her own.’ During the exercise, the presenter kept flip chart notes of all the great ideas given by attendees. Here’s where it got awkward, though – Helen became incredibly defensive about the title, the attendee feedback and the presentation in general.
Helen was a first time author. She suddenly found herself in front of a panel of local publishers and writing professionals that were all throwing out ideas. You could tell she had not thought this through. You could tell she didn’t want to be up on the stage. Well, she did, but she didn’t. She wasn’t in a place that she could be open to constructive criticism. She stammered and became red-faced and flustered. She was taking deep breaths to regain composure, which obviously made her very anxious. Although all the people in the group were enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to help her, the poor lady was overwhelmed. My heart really went out to Helen, because it was a personal, painful experience that she was sharing, and she clearly was uncomfortable doing so. The speaker was very gracious and smoothly transitioned to a less emotional audience member, and Helen faded back into the audience where she seemed much more comfortable.
How will we react when put ‘on the spot?’ You never know when you will get a big break (like a room full of authors trying to help you establish your branding platform). I don’t know if I would have fared much better in the same situation. This event taught me that I need to spend more time working on my presentation skills. I may even join Toastmasters to make sure I can have such impromptu conversations. I have a feeling at some point, we are all a little like the lady who freaked out at the presentation, staring at the audience like a cat at a ceiling fan. Overwhelmed and out of our leagues.
Once a writer finishes their book and goes to promote it, something happens. In order to maintain perspective, in order not to overlook helpful feedback, the author has to separate themselves in part from their work, in order to sell it, push it, promote it and have conversations about it. How to get the right tone? As an HR Manager, when I have to have conversations with employees that may be emotionally charged, I always use the same tone I would use if asking them to please pass the butter. There is no emotion involved in a request such as that. If I can only apply that thinking to my writing…
What do you do to maintain perspective about your writing?