Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's My Line?

Have you ever had to make up an entire speech on the spot? While dozens of faces are staring at you, expecting to get their money's worth for the next hour?

Ain't for the weak of heart, let me tell you.

As an author, we sometimes get asked to speak to groups, which is good. Very, very good. But sometimes, we feel completely out of our element. Like a polar bear in Tahiti. And we're fully - painfully - aware that this could turn out badly. Very, very badly.

I've always admired ministers who use no notes, but say they're led by the spirit about what to say. Wow. How incredibly tuned in they must be. Either that or amazingly clever at improv. Like Wayne Brady. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them.

One night this week as I stood before a group of young (20 something) yuppie mothers in the club house of an affluent area, I realize my regular prepared speech wasn't going to do, no it wasn't. After my lead in, my first line that usually draws a laugh, but fell totally flat with this group, I knew I was in trouble.

So shooting a shotgun prayer heavenward, I ditched my cheat sheet and began adlibbing. Not really my forte. It started out stilted and a bit like a car engine that keeps going ER-ER-ER-ER and won't quite turn over, but after about 10 minutes, the car finally cranked and started truckin' on down the road.

It was a tough audience, probably the toughest I can recall, but after we passed the "I'm okay, you're okay" point that comes in any presentation, we ended up having a mutually good time. And hey, I ended up selling a nice pile of books. Woo Hoo!

My point? Writing is like that. Sometimes our most detailed outline falls flat. The heroine is cardboard or the plot turns out to be lame. It just doesn't work. ER-ER-ER-ER. We have to chuck Plan A and turn over minds to new possibilities. Plans B, C, D, and E.

So don't fall apart if it happens to you. It happens to all writers at some time or another.

Just keep turning the key until that dang engine turns over.