Hi I’m….Wait What’s My Name?

I’ve seen a lot recently about authors discussing dealing with depression. I applaud these posts because I feel like this is something that a lot of readers also deal with. For me another equally important thing is anxiety.
The other day I attended an event and I realized that my shyness really hinders by ability to function at these things. I wanted to write this post because I know there are other bloggers out there, and readers without blogs too, who deal with this. As you will see later in this post I reached out on Twitter to see if anyone else had this problem and got some response pretty quickly.
There is nothing more amazing than getting to meet an author whose books you love and admire. I know for me it’s not just about their book, but as a writer too I am usually amazed at their ability and talent to spin a story. I’ve said this before, but authors are my rock stars. They are my movie stars. And so to have to deal with any type of anxiety or nerves really sucks.
I remember the first time I went to an event after I started my blog. There were five bloggers who had arranged to get together beforehand. I had been talking online to Marla (then from Starting the Next Chapter) for a few months beforehand, but this was also the first time I was meeting her in person. I was nervous. It was weird because I could talk to her for hours online, but the second we got in person. Awkward. We made it to Nashville (3.5hrs for me. 1.5 hrs for her) and got to Panera to meet the other bloggers. We met up with Shalena, Writer Quirk, Megan, Myth-Illogical, and Lauren, The Housework Can Wait and immediately….my mouth was sewed shut and like Gandalf shouting “You shall not pass!” to the balrog in Moria no words passed my lips that entire dinner.

When standing in line to get books signed I spend the entire time (and usually the entire car ride to Nashville) coming up with things to say in my head. “Oh my gosh I love your book! I love this character or I love that character! This was my favorite part!” I rehearse it over and over again in my head with a little bit of, “Marla I don’t think I can do this!” to which she usually tells me to calm down and it will go fine.
Then the second I get in front of the author I freeze. My heart starts racing and my entire body is fighting my flight response to fight or flight. My eyes are wide. My face goes red. Sometimes my mouth hands open in an O on it’s own accord. And of course, none of those carefully scripted words I worked so hard to memorize some out of my mouth. Not even the simple “hello” that began all potential sentences.

Sometimes authors are really cool and have one of two reactions. They either don’t feel the awkwardness or they understand that you are shy. These are the best. There are also two other good reactions. When the author signs the book and I move on too quickly to have any awkwardness. The downside is you don’t get to talk to them at all. Then sometimes the author can tell when someone is shy and they start the conversation. Even though I feel like the convo is all about me, I still feel like I am having a conversation with an author I admire.
My most feared reaction is the stare and unfortunately this happens most often. When I get to the front of the line (and at the most recent even I spent 3hrs waiting!) and my mouth hands open because it wants to speak words so badly, but it can’t and the author just stares with wide eyes and doesn’t say anything. I take this to mean the author is also nervous and probably shy. When this happens the only thing going through my mind is, “Think. Think. Think. Think. Think!!!” Trying to think of something (anything!) to say instead of standing there looking like an idiot. Like I said, I always have the conversations in my head. My favorite scenes or elements that I dream of discussing with them and questions I’ve been dying to ask. Then it all falls short.
You all know I love Jodi Meadows. I have been talking to Jodi on twitter for two years (poor soul lol). Twitter I have no problem communicating through. This is a book series I love! And yet the second I got in front of her I could say nothing. After a few seconds of bug eyed staring I blurted out, “I’m Hannah!” as if she was magically supposed to know that I was the same Hannah who harasses her with twitter conversations all the time. After that nothing was said. This event was two years in the making and I blew it.

I didn’t do a write up about the Southern Festival of Books this year, but it was incredible. Through a series of events I was able to meet one of my childhood authors. When I was growing up there were two authors that I read all the books two. J.K. Rowling (duh) and Margaret Peterson Haddix. Margaret happened to be friends with Sharon Cameron. The two of them along with J.J. Howard (she is the sweetest!) and Shalena and I got to spend most of the night together. We hung out at a lounge together, went to an event at a fancy hotel with really beautiful views of Nashville, and then went to this little Italian eatery for dinner. We spent hours together. I had dreamed of questions to ask Margaret since I was nine and I first started reading her books and now I finally had the chance. And wouldn’t you know it? Not one word was uttered from my mouth that night. SOOOOOO many things I could have said to her. So many! But the words were stuck in my throat.
It’s so frustrating to go to events and not be able to talk and wanting to so badly. The words right there on the tip of my tongue fighting viciously to come out and they never do. So those are some of my experiences.

After reaching out to other bloggers online two women were able to give me some more perspective.

Danie from The Bookish Brunette.
Okay, so I’m the strangest person ever. I’m normally an extrovert, bubbly, outgoing, open, all of that. You kind of have to be for my job (Pre-K teacher). But for some reason, at signings, I clam up. I don’t know why? I think the one that sticks out most in my mind is meeting Sherrilyn Kenyon. I was so excited to meet her. I talked about it for WEEKS. I mean…it’s freaking Sherrilyn Kenyon! So I get to the signing, and then when it’s my turn, all I say is “hi” and “thank you.” I mean…REALLY!?

Another example is when I drove 11 hours to go meet Brigid Kemmerer. Thankfully, she and I have talked on Twitter a few times, so I had no fear talking to her – if I’m driving 11 hours to meet someone you can bet I’ll say more than “hi”! But I was also super stoked to meet a couple bloggers that I knew lived in the area. And then when I got there, and saw all of them, I couldn’t say anything. Ugh.

I also feel really awkward if I get chosen to ask a question. I always feel like they’ll think it’s a ridiculous question (most recently at the Pitch Dark Days tour stop with Tahereh Mafi, Veronica Rossi, Kristen White, and Sophie Jordan). And then I don’t know what to do while everyone, including the author, is looking at me, making full-on eye-contact. Do I look back? Stare at the ceiling? Stare at my hands? How do I sit? THE PRESSURE.

Megan from Myth-Illogical

I definitely suffer from anxiety on a day-to-day basis, and when I’m at special events is no exception. I can be pumped beyond belief to be heading to a book signing of a favorite author, and then when I’m standing in front of them, suddenly my mind goes blank .

I want to make a connection with the author. I want to say, “Hey, I follow you on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/wherever and I think you are really awesome, and your writing is amazing. I would like to be your friend and maybe absorb some of your awesome/amazing through osmosis.” But then I realize that probably sounds kinda creepy, so I just get my book signed and smile and thank them and walk away, feeling a little disappointed in myself for not saying SOMETHING.

Last year, Neil Gaiman came to my area and I made the trip with a friend to go see him. He gave an outstanding presentation, and at the end we got the chance to get books signed. They called us up randomly by rows for the signing, and the whole time I just sat there thinking, “What on earth can you say to Neil Gaiman? “

Everything I came up with sounded stupid, and, as usual, slightly creepy. I sat there with my friend for hours – I forget how many. Four? Five, maybe? — we were in the VERY last section to be called up. As the last of us snaked our way down the hall to the signing area, I could feel the familiar tightening of my throat and increased heartbeat, worse than before because I was about to meet a very famous author.

When my turn came, I handed him my books and waited as he signed my name that his assistants had already pre-written on a post-it note to save time. As he finished scrawling his name in my second book, I took a breath and forced some words out: “Thank you SO much for staying so late for us. I really appreciate it.” (By this time I think it was close to 1 a.m. and the event had started before sunset.)

He looked up at me, smiled, and thanked me for not rioting for having to wait for so long. That night I walked away feeling proud of myself. I’d exchanged a couple of sentences with a world-famous author – and hadn’t said a single weird thing to him. Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

What about you guys? How do you feel at events? One of my friends doesn’t get nervous at all and I am so jealous of her. What side of the spectrum to do you fall into?