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Networking, Small-Talk, and Cocktails: An Introvert’s Worst Nightmare

As part of my writing journey, I’ve signed up to attend my first writer’s conference, Writer’s Digest Conference, on the recommendation of fellow author B.J. Knapp. Sitting in a conference room that’s either too cold or too hot, and never in the proverbial Goldilocks’ zone of just-right is one thing. Handing out business cards and gripping-and-grinning is quite another.

Like a lot of writers, I am an introvert: a fancy word that means I like books more than people and small talk. Even small-talk in books is a little annoying. But I have more than just an aversion to small talk and mingling, I also have a fear.

Rewind to a long time ago (in this galaxy) some events happened causing me to mistrust people. Some of these things were legitimate. Others were fabrications of my own imagination but feel real all the same. The result? Anxiety. Full-blown social anxiety when I was around 14.
I’ve worked on it over these past [redacted] years and am much better. I’ve improved to the point where people have told me they’re surprised that I’m an anxious introvert. Yet, I can still feel like a trembling Chihuahua at times.

Fast forward to this coming August and I’m looking at the conference schedule. I can sit in any meeting and take notes like a fiend. I assume that fiends take notes…anyway, that’s the easy part. It’s the slots in between the workshops and sessions that worry me a little. I can carry a conversation for two-to-three minutes.

“Boy it’s hot outside. You think they could turn up the AC, right?” or, “I wish I brought a sweater like you did. Where you from?”

“Iceland”

“Oh – must be nice then.”

I can even meet with literary agents. It might be intimidating, but I will be pitching my book which is not unlike playing a role. I will no longer be me. I will be J.R. Cook, bestselling novelist [smiles confidently].

Nope. There’s only one thing on that itinerary that is making my palms sweat: the cocktail social. I’ve attended some for work and they’re awful. Think middle-school dance with more sweat and booze.

My biggest fear? This possible conversation…

Me: “So, what got you into writing?”

Person appearing more confident (PAM C): “I’ve been writing poetry and short-stories since my preschool teacher saw my talent and encouraged me. I’ve since graduated from Top Ivy-League International and am completing my Masters (in Fine Arts). In my new literary project, I’m hoping to encapsulate the futile aspirations of the bourgeois in a country whose great dream is in decline. You?”

Me: “I, um, started typing and read some books. I’m writing about the adventures of a violin.”

PAM C. “How charming! Please, excuse me while my friends and I point and laugh at you from the corner.”

I know, logically, that this scenario is unlikely. And, even if PAM did show up and laugh, I’d be thankful I’m not her. However, since when are fears rational?

But, I will go and try to live by the words of Francis Chichester: “If anything terrifies me, I must try to conquer it.” My most recent example of this is my conquering Mt. Everest. Of course I am referring to Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom, Disney World. Did I mention I like roller coasters even less than small talk?

If there’s anything I have learned about networking it’s that it’s good to be a connector. I can connect two or three other people who need each other. I’ve learned that this is better than sticking cards in people’s faces and telling them how desperate you are for their assistance. It’s coming from a place of giving instead of taking which is good because, as an introvert, the last thing you want is attention on yourself.

Laura Katen explains the logical side of networking very well in this article on TheMuse.com, but she does not address soul-crushing anxiety or how to nonchalantly change out of wet undies. Perhaps she will write a follow-up.

Go forth I will on my grand writing journey and face the confident orcs of Misty City with nothing more than my winning smile and desire. I’ll endure my battle of pride against PAM C. and, scarred, I will trudge forward making allies of other introverts and will emerge from the dark dungeons of Cocktail, victorious.

At the very least, I’ll get a good story or two.

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  • Diane C

    I admire the bold change of direction in your life and also applaud your style.

    • James

      Thank you for the encouragement and kind words!