Robin and I received this email from one of our readers, and wanted to get right on it! (Some details have been changed to honor the writer's privacy.)
Dear Shrinking Violets,
This past weekend, I attended an SCBWI Regional Conference. I was signed up for the Writers Intensive on the first day. Aah! Toward the end of the session, we divided into groups for critiques. I’ve never read my work in front of other people other than my husband. I actually did better than I thought I would, but I totally could not breathe. I thought I was going to hyperventilate. For real! And my picture book manuscript was only 430 words for crying out loud! I also noticed that one of our workshop leaders couldn’t breathe during her presentation as well – and she even mentioned this to the group. I have no idea how to deal with this unexpected situation. Any advice would be appreciated!
We are so glad that you wrote, and I hope you know that Violets all over are feeling your pain! I am quite certain that we've all gone through this same experience at least once. It does feel just god-awful. That, and worse!
The mind- body connection is a mighty relationship that cannot be underestimated. As the saying goes, what goes in must come out. Your body was merely expressing the information and orders you had input. It performed beautifully! It doesn't ever-ever-ever operate randomly, even though it does feel that way at times.
And, we don't emote in a vacuum either. It all starts in that amazing space between your ears. While you may hardly have been aware, as you sat in the critique group waiting your turn, you started a running monologue. It might have sounded something like-- Oh, lord, it's almost my turn... what if they hate my work ... what if they don't get it... what if that really cool published writer over there thinks I'm pathetic ... what if . . . what if???
As fast as you input all that, your autonomic response system was gearing up for fight/flight or some kind of serious hoe-down. Your heart kicked up its busy production schedule, prepping you for whatever you needed. It pulled in the blood supply from your extremeties to ready you. But, Breathless, you didn't move! You just sat there-- gunning your motor, locked in Park.
So to answer your question, fixing this for future reference has to start early on. Before your monologue starts. You'll need to write a brand new one-- one that is way gentler than the one you were running. If you have a hard time with that, think about what the nicest person in the whole world would say if they were sitting next to you. As in, WWJBD? (What would Judy Blume do? Gawd, she's so nice!) Or your partner or BWBFF. They might say things like-- They're gonna love you-- this piece has got something-- you'll learn something here-- everyone is probably nervous too-- your hair looks fabulous, by the way. Get the idea?
That's my take on this, Breathless-- think prevention. But, if you get to the Point of (Nearly) No Return, and you need that pound of cure and you need it QUICK-- what then? I'm going to open the floor and pass the mike to our tribe of experts. Let's hear from those of you out there. Since we know this has happened to everyone, what has worked for you? Short of a little brown paper bag, what works?