DON’T BE SHY

July 23rd, 2004

So my Teen Idol book tour starts next week. For those of you who don't know what a book tour is, it's actually when an author's publisher sends her around to different cities to speak in front of readers (usually in bookstores) and/or go on the radio and television to promote her new book.

I will be having just a mini-tour of my home state of Indiana next week, because that's where Teen Idol takes place. I'm not doing a multi-state tour for this book, because I've already done two major tours this year alone, and I still have another one (to England) left in October, plus many speaking engagements in the Fall as well. So I am somewhat wiped out, tour-wise.

Most authors I know don't enjoy going on book tours, because it takes them away from whatever book they're currently writing. Also, it's not like we get a lot of control over where we get to go on tour (otherwise, we would all only go on tour to Hawaii). Some authors I know HATE book tours, because they are very shy people who entered the writing profession in order to sit quietly by themselves and never speak to anyone.

It was a very rude shock to them to discover that they would actually be forced to go speak in front of large groups every time one of their books came out.

I feel for these authors. That's because I actually used to be extremely shy.

Most people don't know this about me. People who have seen me speak in public ESPECIALLY don't know this about me. Because I believe I project a very hearty public persona. NOW. Nobody has a clue that I used to be the shyest girl in my entire school—except maybe people who knew me back then.

I am not kidding. Every single report card I got from Kindergarten until about the seventh grade said stuff like “Meg is a bright girl, but she is much too shy,” or “Meg lacks confidence in social interactions with her peers.”

I wasn't shy around my FRIENDS, or my family. It was only when it came to large groups of people (such as in school), public speaking, or meeting strangers (things authors are required to do a LOT) that I froze up.

I wouldn't even stand up to kids who were being mean to me, I was that shy. Until about the seventh grade or so, I would fully let anybody who wanted to walk all over me.

My parents tried TONS of things as a kid to cure me of my shyness. I was ALWAYS being enrolled in plays and theater programs.

But the thing about doing a PLAY is, you have the lines already written for you. You don't have to stand up there and MAKE UP WHAT TO SAY. You already KNOW what you're supposed to say.

So that didn't help at all.

My mom sent me to camp, to meet new people, and hopefully get over being shy by being forced to talk to strangers for two straight weeks. That didn't work either, because I would always find a girl I actually knew from school, and the two of us would just hang out together and not talk to anybody else for the two weeks.

Ironically, what finally cured me of my shyness was something I read. Yes. In a book.

Remember in the book Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth Bennett is so nervous about going to meet Mr. Darcy's sister at Pemberley? And the narrator (Jane Austen) goes something like (my copy of this book is AWOL, so I am paraphrasing) “But she shouldn't have been nervous about meeting Mr. Darcy's sister, because Mr. Darcy's sister was already prepared to like her”?

Guess what? This is true. People really are PREPARED to like you. EVERYONE wants to make a new friend (okay, well, not Al-Quaeda, necessarily. And maybe not the snotty girls in your school. But everyone else. I PROMISE you). The way to enter into social interactions or a public speaking gig isn't to think to yourself: “Oh, God, they're all going to hate me,” the way Eliza Bennett was doing.

Instead, you have to say to yourself: “They have no reason NOT to like me.”

Seriously. They have NO REASON to hate you, because you haven't done anything to offend them. YET.

And chances are, you probably won't. Offend them. I mean, you'd have to go out of your way to really offend a group of people you don't even know yet!

If you enter into the situation with the attitude of, “They all WANT to like me. My job is just to give them what they want,” you will have a much easier time than if you go into the situation going, “Oh, God. They're all going to hate me.”

(None of this applies, by the way, if you're a prison warden.)

But for the rest of you, I am not joking about this. Try it. It seriously works (unless you aren't just shy, but actually have social-anxiety disorder, in which case, you need to see a therapist. Although I would still recommend the whole “They WANT to like me” approach to social interactions, because it can't hurt).

Anyway, I realized Jane was right. And I resolved RIGHT THEN never to be shy again.

I'm not going to say I wasn't ever scared to meet new people or speak in public after that. I'm not going to say that at first I didn't have to ACT like I had confidence, since I didn't, back then.

But the thing about PRETENDING you have confidence when you're meeting new people or speaking in front of a group is that NO ONE KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE. No one knows that you're just ACTING. To them, you DO have confidence. See what I mean?

And now pretending to feel confident has gotten so natural that I actually AM confident. Seriously. I'm not shy AT ALL now. And haven't been, for some time. As those of you who have seen me speak in public know.

So, I just wanted to say, if you are shy, I understand. But think about what Jane said. There is definitely a grain of truth in it. And stop being so shy. You are totally worth knowing.

More later.

Much love,

Meg

PS Don't be shy–Come chat LIVE with me at www.megcabotbookclub.com about books, writing, and Louise Rennison's Away Laughing on a Fast Camel on Sunday, July 25, at 7PM. Sadly, Ms. Rennison won't be able to join us…but I promise we'll still have fun!