The main character in my work in progress is a college student who plans to become a professional journalist (a real stretch for me, right?). But as I was describing the novel's basic plot to a writer friend, she asked me an interesting question: What made a once shy person like me want to be a journalist when it's the type of job where you absolutely have to talk to people?
I thought over her question for a while and I think that, ironically enough, it was my initial shyness that led me to that career. To backtrack a bit, you have to understand that when I was a kid, I was painfully shy. I remember that on the first day of kindergarten, my goal was to talk to one person (sidenote: I did and she and I are still friends). By the time I entered high school, I overcame some of my shyness, but was still quiet and unsure of myself, especially around boys who I liked. I enjoyed playing my flute in public, but when it came to just being myself, I often felt as if I were invisible. It just seemed to me as if I never knew the right thing to say and just wasn't an interesting conversationalist.
Writing for the school paper helped me with this. I first joined the paper in junior high because I liked writing and there were only so many literary-based clubs available (basically the school paper and the poetry magazine). At first, I mainly wrote reviews of movies and TV shows, but our advisor asked me to interview the 7th grade class treasurer. I freaked out because he was a popular jock and I figured that he'd laugh at me. Instead, the advisor had me interview a teacher, but really pushed the idea of me doing something other than a review.
I was nervous going into the interview, but as I asked the teacher my questions, I quickly relaxed. Most 7th graders didn't get to chat with teachers about things other than the subject that they taught, but here we were talking as if we were on the same level! Even better, I had a specific topic that needed to be addressed so I didn't have to worry so much about coming up with a conversation topic on my own. I enjoyed that feeling of finally being in control of a conversation, plus I felt as if I had some respect. I also liked having the opportunity to get to know another person. While my shyness made forming close relationships difficult to me, journalism became a way for me to relate to others.
The more people I interviewed, the easier it became and by the time I joined Soap Opera Digest, I was pretty comfortable with my role. I also became a master at making small talk. Though I almost always interviewed actors, or someone in the business, I couldn't ask the same questions because they all had outside interests. I had to be up on politics, current events and pop culture because I never knew where the conversation would lead -- and I found that the more that I could talk about with people, the more they told me. I would still get a jolt of nervousness right before each interview, but those nerves had to do more with me wanting to do a good job. For the most part, though, my interviews would feel more like a talk between two friends. My style was to NOT fire off a list of questions; instead, I'd ask about work and their families, etc., and let things go from there. Several actors told me that they felt very comfortable speaking with me, which was a wonderful compliment.
What's really great is that the social benefits I got from being a journalist spilled over into my real life. I'm no longer afraid to approach strangers or strike up a conversation with someone new -- and I can seriously talk about ANYTHING. My interviewing skills have also taught me to listen to the person with whom I'm talking and to show interest in what he or she is saying. Yeah, this sounds like CONVERSATIONS 101, but I've encountered so many people who like to talk about themselves and don't give others a chance to reply back. If I feel like I'm monopolizing a convo, I'll redirect it so I can even things out. This way, both of us can be on equal footing and we can both feel comfortable. It's my way of bringing someone in and getting that person to open up.
I'm not sure if I'll ever formally write for another magazine or newspaper, but I credit journalism for turning me into an extrovert. In my latest book, I hope to show my character make a similar transformation.
Please read and review my first novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.