A Kind of Thanks

Last October, I stood before a room of people and realised I had their attention. It wasn’t the first time it ever happened, and not the first time at that venue. It’s always been a problem area for me.

When you’re used to standing on the edge of silence, you feel a strange kind of comfort with the awkwardness of it, borne purely from its familiarity. I know that awkwardness well, whether it’s the mumbled stuttering that comes out of addressing a few hundred peers at an assembly, or one-on-one with a first date. Once upon a time I would have retreated to the silence with a mind full of shame, as I’d done many times before, after throwing a spattering of words at the wind. Also for the not-the-first-time, I spoke instead.

My public speaking has always been questionable, and always been a case of being far too optimistic about my own run with words to truly plan for it. I can distinctively remember occasions where I’ve had to do speeches, and was not really ready for it. I honestly thought “yeah, I’m sure I can make it up as I go along”, but at the pinnacle moment, I would always begin to doubt myself, wonder why I was there in the first place and how to make the moment just go away.

There’s a few cases where I’ve somehow avoided the quiet stamp and been kind of talkative. The first I really remember was probably through an online radio show called “The Movies: On Air” (TMOA). It was a community podcast for Lionhead’s The Movies game run by Ken White, and as a sometimes moviemaker/sometimes modder within that community, I was called in for interviews over skype on occasion. The first time was pretty nerve-wracking, but it’s different when you don’t see people. I later had a stint as a co-host on the TMOA Down Under show, which didn’t have a lot of listeners, yet was great for learning how to talk bullshit. We occasionally interviewed people, and I’d actually put together questions.

I don’t want to go through all of my “yay, I spoke to someone” moments, but the other constant has been if I feel like I know what I’m talking about, I can do it. Random small talk? No. Want to discuss the narrative of story X, or why a twist should never be crucial to the narrative working? Let’s play.

It’s been easier around writers. Meeting up with people during NaNoWriMo over the years, I learned that due to the amount I’ve read and written, I’m very sure about my opinions on methods – yes, one of those is everyone needs to find what works for them. The point though is I can discuss that creative side at length, and feel quite comfortable in giving advice. NaNoWriMo gave me the chance to mix with other writers, and feel like I belonged. There’s been many times when I’ve gone out with people I didn’t know, and strongly feel that I shouldn’t be there. My brain would be screaming at me “Why are you here, when can we go, I just want to leave” but you go along with it and unsuccessfully try to make yourself go with it.

Mixing with published writers was originally like that. My very first time tagging along to the Aurealis Awards, I felt like a pretender. Second time I felt a bit more sure of myself, but there was still that element of “Do I really belong here?” I thought that I did and it’s the same conclusion I came to by the end of the night, but it wasn’t a sure thing. I had a similar feeling when I did the writing for The Gamer’s Journey here, because the people I was getting input from were (to me) some important names in that industry. I’m still proud of that write-up, and it’s without a doubt the best thing I’ve written about games, but I’m don’t see myself as a part of that world. Unequivocally a (very opinionated) gamer, but that’s the limit.

Sometimes we need to go beyond what’s easy. August 2012, I was at the NSW Writers Centre for a wedding. Mine. In the lead-up to the day, we hadn’t really discussed speeches at all, but I’d been going along under the assumption that we weren’t going to have them. I started to get a little worried, but didn’t want to ask just in case it meant yes, of course we’d have to do speeches. Even so, I started making a few notes that I thought could be used to write a speech if I needed, just a few little bits and pieces. We eventually talked about it, and agreed that there’d be no need for either of us to give speeches, as we had an inkling that her father would be more than happy to speak for hours if he was anywhere near a microphone. We were right on that count. Not needing speeches, not so much.

Our Cake Toppers, made by me.
Our Cake Toppers, made by me.

Once her father was done, the microphone came to me. Time slowed down. Tick. Tick. Heartbeat. I could see magnetism. I held the mic to my mouth and thought, no, I can’t do this. I’m not capable. I almost didn’t. I eventually spoke, and gave a impromptu speech roughly based on the planning I’d done before, much to the surprise of my wife, myself, and pretty much anyone there that had met me. It actually went well – apparently I could give speeches if I dived in and actually tried to give one, if I truly committed myself to speaking.

When I was in high school, I decided running for school captain would be a good idea. I don’t know why. I was a pretty clean-cut student, decent grades, etc. I wasn’t hugely popular or well-known, but I still thought it would be a good idea. I considered writing a speech, but no, better to wing it. My eventually speech was literally: “Hi I’m Nick. So vote for me.” Bam, out. Nope, didn’t get it. I don’t know what sadistic streak exists inside me to do that to myself, but I want to believe it’s because somewhere in my subconscious, there’s a voice that wants an audience.

Anyway – now we come to the room from the start. It was the start of NaNoWriMo 2013. The Kick-Off Party. I was the freshly minted co-Municipal Liaison for Sydney, standing before a room full of new writers that I mostly didn’t know. I wasn’t published, wasn’t old and wise, and wasn’t sure that’s where I should have been. It took me a while to build up momentum enough to address the people there, but it was fine once things were moving along. By the end of the month I’d attended a lot of meet-ups, sent out nine long emails that went to a few thousand people, and generally done a lot of coordinator stuff. I got thanks from a lot of people that’ve done it before, saying it was the smoothest NaNo they’d gone through. I had actually done it.

As a result of my liaising, I was invited to the NSW Writers Centre‘s Christmas party. At first I still had a shadow over me, not sure that I really belonged there. I chatted to a few people not directly related to the centre, and they’d heard of NaNo. This was new. I spoke about writing process and other writerly topics, and didn’t feel out of my depth. That hesitation many of us have when asked “Are you a writer?” wasn’t a call to arms, but seen as a tacit acknowledgement that yes we are, and relabelled as such.

“So, are you a writer?”

“Uhhh…”

“Yep, you are.”

That’s an amazing correction to be given. I’d skipped out on my work christmas party to attend this one, and it was one of the best events for me that I’d been to – chatting with other writers of varying mediums, socialising with people, and feeling a real sense of belonging to them. There was no distinction as there often is on the internet, no “well, I’m a real writer” from anyone. It was a place of learning, where people come together because of their sheer love of writing. It was there that one of my best writing moments of 2013 happened. The three in total are:

  • Raymond Feist at Supanova Sydney. I attended his lecture, and it was the best lecture by a writer I’ve attended. It was insightful, candid, and one of those moments where you feel like the struggles and problems and accomplishments you have as a writer are universal thing.
  • Patrick Weekes at PAX Australia. I was excited to meet Karin Weekes also, because I’m a big Bioware fan. The reason I say Patrick is that I (in true fanboy style) identified with someone he’d said in a seminar about giving euphemisms to nerdy pursuits, where he’d say he was going out for poker night, when it was D&D. About how we’re brought up to shun or shame those ‘uncool’ hobbies. It was a stepping stone for me, as at the time I was planning a piece of fanfic based on the Mass Effect universe. I was really excited and interested in what I was writing, but speaking about it was a fumbling point. I spoke to him about it after the seminar, and he said (paraphrased) “Nothing screws you up like having something that’s really important to you being something you’re also ashamed of.”
  • Kate Forsyth at NSW Writer’s Centre. Chatting with her about writing, NaNoWriMo, and the stuff I’m working on was great. She’s been a writer I’ve admired and respected for a long while, so it was a definite highlight of an already fantastic event. There had one of the most inspirational things ever said to me, though I’ll paraphrase again: “I hope you find an agent, and get multi-national publishing contracts.”

How do you top that? Seriously 2014, because you have to top it. It had a start last night where I mixed with a few people from various facets of the game industry, and it was definitely up there with those other good moments from 2013. It’s an area that I’ve always been interested in, for almost as long as I’ve loved writing, and every few years feel the draw to get back into something in that area (even as a hobby). There’s some other things afoot too, but can’t talk about them yet.

For now I owe it to my inspiration to continue work on the current novel, which I should probably talk about more in the future.

2013 brought many positives into my life, so it deserves this; a kind of thanks.

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