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Monday, July 14, 2008

Don't Be Shy: RWA Survival Skills for the Very Very Bashful by Diane Gaston

If you've met met me you probably haven't guessed I am shy. I am. My idea of a nightmare is to be placed in a social situation where I don't know anybody, especially if they all seem to know each other. Shudder!!

RWA with its 2000-or-so attendees all in one place can strike terror in the hearts of the very very bashful. I'm speaking from experience. I faced the terror, though, because I wanted so very much to be successful at romance writing. I made myself talk to people!

Here are some tips to make RWA easier.

1. Go with a friend.
When you are shy, sometimes this is the only way to do it, otherwise you just wouldn't dream of attending. Even one friend provides enough security to keep the nerves in check. This is not to say you and your friend should be joined at the hip; you should each attend the workshops that most interest you. You should each talk to other people and do some things alone-expand your horizons. Having a friend to attend those purely social events or the meals, however, does increase your enjoyment of the conference, because you don't experience the nightmare I mentioned above-a social situation where you don't know anybody.

2. Remember we're all kindred spirits.
One of the hardest things about being shy is to not know what to talk about, but at RWA we have a built-in commonality. Here are some good conversation openers: "What are you writing?" "What are you reading?" (This is a great question if you happen to sit down next to an agent and editor at lunch- we all like to talk about books) "What workshops have you attended" "Have you had any interviews?" "Do you belong to your local chapter?" and the usual "Where are you from?" If you happen to sit down next to a librarian ask library questions- "How does your library support Romance?" If its a bookseller ask bookseller questions: "What are people buying these days?" "How is your Romance section arranged?" Be prepared to keep asking questions. I've found that while people love to talk about themselves, it is very common that they will not ask much about you. Don't feel bad if this happens. Happens to me all the time.

3. Be willing to be embarrassed, to laugh at yourself.
Let people know what you are feeling when you forget their name or ask a question that turns out embarrassing, like asking some woman if this is her first conference and finding out she is Nora Roberts (she'd think that was hilarious!!). Saying, "Oh, I'm so embarrassed" is okay; everyone understands.

4. Remember it is not you.
How people treat you says more about them than about you. Some people will not be friendly. Some people will be snobs and only want to talk to their own clique. Almost nobody will seek you out for conversation - you must do the seeking. But this has nothing to do with the person you are; sometimes it is the other person's own shyness getting in the way. If one person snubs your attempts to be friendly, think, "What's her problem?" Do not conclude "People don't like me. I'm hiding in my room."

5. Practice not being shy.
Force yourself. This is a great opportunity to practice not being shy--RWA is a happy place. We're all excited about being there. Make yourself say hello to the person sitting next to you at a workshop. Strike up conversations at lunch. Ask questions in workshops. Talk to vendors at Midnight Madness. Come talk to me at the Literacy Signing (I will not pressure you to buy - I'll give you a bookmark, though. A Bookmark is my security blanket at signings). If one approach you make doesn't work, don't worry about it. You are just practicing so practice a little more and it will go better.

Believe me, you will have a wonderful conference if you give yourself permission to counteract your shyness. The plus is, the more you do this the easier it becomes and pretty soon people will be shocked when you tell them you are shy. Happens to me all the time!

What are your tips for counteracting shyness?
What situations are hardest for you because of shyness?

(this photo is from RWA 2001, New Orleans, the most fun I ever had in my life! Fom left to right: Leisa Connor (from Australia), Melissa James (also Australian, a Harlequin Romance author), Me, Karen Anders (Blaze), and Maryanne Cappelluti (the Noodler we lost to scleroderma in 2006)

There is still time to enter my contest at and to read the sneak peek of Scandalizing the Ton, coming in October.

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At 10:20 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

Great advice, Diane! One tip I'd add is, if you're in a room full of people you don't know, look for someone standing alone with a lost expression on her face. My roomate and I looked for shy people at M&M one year. By doing so we met a very nice writer, a Maggie finalist who flew down from Chicago. My roommate and I introduced ourselves and asked her to join us for dinner. She's never forgotten us!

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

wow, Diane. I never would have guessed you were shy! I used to be very shy until I hit 30. I had a tough time back then. Once I was able to conquer my shyness (for the most part) I've been trying to make up for lost time ever since!

As soon as I try to be something I'm not I clam up. If I do speak while I'm nervous, I almost always insert foot into mouth.

The great thing is that I don't beat myself up over stupid things I say anymore. Life's too short and worrying about things I've said isn't going to make it go away.

Love that story, Mo! That's a very nice thing to do.

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Great advice, Diane! Sometimes not being shy takes more courage than other times. But if you have an arsenal of supportive weapons with you, it's easier. So don't go unprepared. Remind yourself of your weapons before you enter the room. If you forget, then as soon as you remember (usually triggered by that What-am-I-doing-here? feeling) immediately re-arm yourself.

It works well for me. Now I rarely feel shy- usually only once or twice each conference.

I always try to remember the Hawaii conference in 1995, when I decided to speak to the woman sitting in a relaxing-looking chair in the lobby, just at the same time she spoke to me. We became good friends, and later laughed at how we both had decided at the same moment to reach out. She had been widowed just two months before and was just re-learning how to be independent, having discovered just how dependent she had become in a long marriage.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Mo, that was excellent advice! How very nice of you. We should all remember to be friendly and to look out for anyone who looks lost or lonely.

One thing I've learned since practicing not being shy, Theresa (which is what I do now) is how much fun it is to meet other people!

Delle, isn't that funny but nice that you both decided to speak to each other.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

What a lovely post, Diane. I was rather shell-shocked at last year's National but knew I had to go, it was relatively close to home, and I got to meet one of my dear on-line CP's!

I really had to remind myself that it was Ok that I was there, even if my badge was rather bare. :) And the one rude person I met, who asked me how I could stand to live someplace as boring as Kansas, was so funny I just had to laugh!

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Good tips, Diane and everyone.

It's odd, but I'm not shy. That said, as a writer I spend most of my time alone at the computer. So by the time conference rolls around, I'm ready to hang out and talk until I get hoarse. Then I go home and recuperate for a year before doing it all over again. :)

At 7:47 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Trish and Gillian, I now have attended enough conferences and know enough people that it feel like a comfortable place to me. And I LOVE catching up with friends I only see there. Still, I have those shy moments at RWA...

I've encountered rude people there, too. Just gotta ignore them!

Gillian are you attending this time? Because I hope to see you there!

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Santa said...

Great tips, Diane. I think you've hit them all. I think conferences are great and everyone is so friendly and giving of their time and advice.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

Nobody who knows me now believes how painfully shy I used to be. And I still am on the inside, but I've tried to put on a bolder face. (Note: this is all in person -- my 'web' persona is NOT shy and I often get in trouble for my outspoken frankness-or is that a redundancy).

Just remember: It's a WRITING conference. A ROMANCE WRITING conference. As Diane says in #2: Where else can you walk up to anyone and strike up a conversation by saying, "And what do you write?"

Everyone has an answer, and everyone loves to tell you about their work.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Emily D. said...


Thanks for the tips and encouragement--very appreciated as this will be my first conference. You are so gracious, in person and in print, that I would never have described you as shy!

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Terry, you've hit on what makes it easier for me not to act shy...a structure of what to talk about, a common topic that is ready-made. Even if the answer is "I'm not a writer; I'm an editor/agent/librarian, etc." you have that opening and you can go from there!

emily d, How nice of you to say that about me. Thing is, I've learned over the years not to act shy. The more I practice, the better I become, so now it gets easy in certain situations, like a conference or a chapter meeting. It still can hit me, though.

I noticed on the RWA conference website where they show the schedule, that there is a First timers orientation. I think that's a great thing!

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Diane, not this year. But I'll be cheering for everyone from Kansas, and hope to make it to next year's conference!

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Great tips, O Divine One! I am a bit nervous as this is my first conference. I am bringing a friend - Tammy, the owner of our local bookstore, is coming with me. I think my hometown writers' group thought I needed a keeper. I have no idea why! We are both getting excited about the trip!

I feel like I know so many people from my online writing groups and blogs that I will have a bunch of friends there and that makes me feel better!

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...

My very first conference was Reno and I knew no one nor did I try and meet anyone. I was a member of a local but never went to meetings. I would sit in the bar and watch the groups of people having a great time and i would feel like a loser!

The next conference I decided to put myself forward and I am so glad I did. Everyone I met were very nice and welcoming. I now know lots of people and I still say hi to people I don't know and start a conversation based on the flimisest of knowledge. Just saying "Oh, you're from Georgia - tell me about it" always works!


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