Monday, 19 October 2015

Of Cons and Confidence

There was a time, not even that long ago, when I considered myself to be pretty introverted.  It's a fact that's rarely far from my mind when I think about conventions, and in particular about getting up at them to speak in public.  I mean, there was a phase when I was a teenager during which ordering a pizza over the phone was too much for my non-existent confidence, and throughout much of my twenties I was uncomfortable around people I didn't know.  It took a public-facing job to shake me out of the worst of it, and even then I was hardly what you'd call confident.

Yet in the last four years I've appeared on and moderated any number of panels, played Just a Minute in front of a packed room of people and single-handedly run an hour-and-a-half long workshop.  I've espoused my opinions, argued with strangers, given moderately coherent answers to questions I barely knew where to begin with, and in general, I hope, managed to maintain the impression that I'm comfortable with being in these situations.  And strangest of all, that's not because I've somehow learned to fake it, but because I genuinely am.  Hell, at a push I'd even say that I enjoy them.

Now if you're not naturally given to introversion, you might assume that I simply got over it before I started doing any of these things, but in practice it didn't at all work like that.  It was more a case of doing things because it seemed to me they had to be done, followed by a slow and steady process of learning what I could and couldn't cope with.  There are still times when I find conventions rather overwhelming environments, and each new challenge brings a fresh bout of nerves - running that workshop certainly did! - but there are other and increasingly more common times when I'm shocked to find myself completely at ease.

The thing that originally made me want to write about all this, and which has been rattling about in my head for a long time now, was a query that someone put to me - if I remember rightly - at Nine Worlds the year before last, when I was moderating a panel on the subject of being debut novelists distinguished primarily by the fact that none of us were debut novelists.  A recurring theme had been just how much business gets done in the publishing industry face to face and particularly at cons, and towards the end someone asked a question that went roughly thus: "I'm not very confident and I'm uncomfortable talking to people I don't know, is it really necessary to do that kind of thing to sell and publicize a book?"

The answer, of course, was no.  I know of successful writers who've never been to a convention in their lives.  The rather longer answer I felt the need to give was that there was a time when I too had been horrified by the prospect of doing such things as speaking on panels, let alone the idea of talking to publishers, editors and agents in public spaces.  If I'd overcome that, it was perfectly probable that they could too.  What I failed to point out, perhaps couldn't have said and yet have always slightly regretted not saying is how that person, by coming to a convention and putting their hand up at a panel and asking a question they clearly felt deeply uncomfortable asking, had proved beyond any doubt that they'd manage just fine if and when the time came.  Because truthfully, it was more than I would have dared to do back in my early days of conference-attending.

Over the last five years or so, I've come to realise that life is considerably more complicated that being a shy or a confident person, an introvert or an extrovert.  My own experiences have taught me that it's perfectly easy to drift from one end of that spectrum towards the other, and to end up hovering somewhere around the middle, depending on the mood of the day.  It's fine to be introverted, just as it's fine to extroverted; I don't at all want to suggest that there's a solution to introversion or that introversion is necessarily something that needs solving.  But if you're introverted and feel that it's impacting your life, as I did, then it's not something you necessarily have to carry with you until your dying day.

As such, my closing point is that I'm overwhelmingly grateful to the convention scene and the parts of my publishing career that have pushed me, year by year, to overcome the doubts that were holding me back and telling me I was uncomfortable in situations I was more than capable of handling.  It's not difficult to imagine a parallel universe version of myself who's still  quaking at the prospect of hanging out in a convention bar or moderating a panel, and I feel for that person.  By the same measure, I've great sympathy for anyone who'd like to be active at conventions and lets a lack of confidence overwhelm them, as I probably would have without the push of having to promote my books.  One of the most wonderful things about the best cons - and particularly those like Nine Worlds that make a policy of inclusiveness - is that, whoever you are, whatever you do, you can get involved and they'll make it as comfortable for you as they can.  This is a marvelous thing, and it can never be celebrated enough.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. To all of this, but it becoming a range in which you can fall anywhere in a given day. Yes.