May 1, 2012

What’s the Hardest “First Step” You’ve Taken?

View from inside plane of a skydiver stepping out the door

As I write this post (late) Monday night, I just returned home after the regional writing conference, Desert Dreams.  I had a great time, met wonderful people, attended thought-provoking workshops, and pitched for the first time (and the second time and the third time).

I think the pitches went well.  I got requests and I didn’t throw up on anyone.  *smile*  In fact, I wasn’t nervous in the slightest.

Let me put this into perspective.  Last Thursday before the conference, I was a nervous wreck.  Hyperventilating, shivering, feeling sick to my stomach, etc.  I didn’t get any sleep Thursday night.  None.  Zero.  Nada.  Not even dozing off for 5 minutes in the middle of the night.  (Great way to start a conference, right?)

Luckily, my family was there for me.  Their support kept me from thinking about backing out.  They even drove me to the conference to make sure I arrived.

And from the time I stepped out of the car at the entrance to the hotel/conference center, I was fine.  No nerves or anything.

I was rather shocked at that extreme change.  How could I go from “ready to throw up” nerves to being calm and confident that quickly?

As the conference was winding down, I shared this story with two new friends.  One of them, Rose Meyer (and Rose, I apologize if I spelled your name wrong. I can’t find your card, did I get one? I’m so brain dead right now I barely know my name.  Anyway…) said:

“You’d left the plane.”

She was referring to the stories the other woman, Melissa Borg, and I had shared about skydiving.  We’d talked about how once you leave the plane, there’s no going back.  After that step, there’s no point in being nervous.  Gravity ensures that you’re just along for the ride.

The conference was a similar situation.  Once I’d left my ride behind, I was stuck there, so I may as well go with the flow.

This was definitely a time when the anticipation was worse than the reality.  I think that reaction happens to many of us.  We build up stress and worry, and then we wonder why we suffered through all that when everything goes well.

Some of us might freak out at the thought of sharing our work with beta readers for the first time.  Or sending a query letter to an agent.  Or submitting a final draft to an editor.  Etc., etc.

I think this is something that gets better with time and experience.  I hope so anyway.  I have my workshop with Rachel Graves to look forward to at RWA Nationals this July, and I hate to think of how worked up I’ll be before that.  RWA Nationals is ten times as big as this regional conference was, and presenting to a roomful of people is different than pitching to a single person.

I’m pointing out to myself that I no longer stress about sending query letters (I still don’t like writing the darn things, but that’s a separate matter) or sharing my work with beta readers.  I hope other new experiences will soon become “old hat” as well.

All I know is that when we’re first doing something new, that “first step” takes a lot of courage.  We’re risking something different from what we’ve ever risked before.  We might have to psych ourselves up with not only “I’ll be fine” thoughts, but also “this step will be worth it” cheers.

For me, this step of pitching for the first time was worth it.  We can’t move forward and progress without risk.  Yes, that first step can be a doozy, but we’ll often find that the rest of the problem isn’t as hard as we’d anticipated.

Do you struggle with “first steps”?  Which ones have you fought to get past?  How did you do it?  Have you found it to get easier with time?  If you’ve done an in-person pitch, what was your experience?

Photo credit: Janky

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Angela Quarles

Yay, am so glad it went well! And great analogy about skydiving! Though you couldn’t pay me enough to do that. But back to this post–Unfortunately, so many people are scared of that first step that they never even take it. I think at that point too, when you’re as prepared as you were, it’s all a head game from there on out, and you had your head in the game. We can either let it control us and talk ourselves into a blabbering idiot, or we can control it and do the best we can….

So glad it went well!!

Riley Murphy

Hi, Jami,
Woo-hoo! Glad it went well for you. I knew it would.
I’d love to comment on the first step of things, but you know me… I leap first and ask questions later. 😉

Riley Murphy

Buffy Armstrong

Yay!!! I’m so glad everything worked out.

I usually get stressed like that before a big event. Two days before my wedding I was looking at the place markers and I thought table was spelled incorrectly on every single one. I learned to spell table when I was six. So glad that is over.

It’s been a lot of firsts for me this past year – first time I sent work to an editor, first query letter, first round with beta readers. All of these firsts are exhausting and awesome all at the same time.

Rebekah Loper

I friggin hate first steps. I’ve gotten better about dealing with them, but after every MAJOR decision, I have to have some time to reflect and recover.

I’m just glad that I have 6 months to prepare for my first pitch with an agent in October. If I was pitching at the OWFI conference this weekend, I think I’d be throwing up right now.

Suzanne Johnson

Congrats on navigating the pitches! I’ve never done a “live” pitch and it would probably give me heart-failure. My most recent first step was doing my first reading/booksigning. I swear I was ready to bolt up until the second I started talking. Then I was okay. I’m about to do my ninth and tenth this weekend….and I’m still threatening to bolt.

Melinda Collins

Congratulations on your your first, second, and third pitch, Jami! So proud of you for receiving requests! 😀

So far the hardest first step I’ve taken is handing over my babies to Beta Readers and Critique Partners. The pitching session you had on here earlier this year was another one, though I wasn’t as ‘anxious’ over that one…just pulling-my-hair-out frustrated. LOL! I’m so glad your family was there with you when you took that first step too. That’s incredibly special to have them share in that with you. 🙂

Wish I could be there at RWA Nationals so we could meet and I could pick your brain in person. Instead, I’m heading to Colorado for a few days to spend some time with Margie Lawson in August. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to Nationals next year.

Congrats again!

Kristin Nador

Congrats on conquering your first pitch, Jami! Your post is perfect timing for me. I am attending my first writing conference this weekend (OWFI) and I can’t figure out if I’m going to throw up from excitement or terror.

I decided if I’m really serious about writing, I need to do things that will put me out of my comfort zone to move forward. So, I joined a critique group and shared my writing. Scary! I took classes at the local community college and read my pieces in front of the class. Double scary! I joined a state affiliate group and spoke on blogging for writers at a monthly meeting. Craziness! And now, I will do the most painful thing for me to do: meet new people. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m encouraged my throw up response will go away once I’m in no-turning-back mode. 🙂

Donna B. McNicol [@donnabmcnicol]

In school I was painfully shy and could barely stammer my way through an oral book report. Fast forward to my corporate career when I worked in marketing support and made presentations to the top brass at major NYC banks…not a blip on the nervous scale. Why? I knew my stuff.

That said, once I finish my WIP I will be a nervous wreck when I send it out to my my alpha/beta readers.

Anne R. Allen

This took me back! I remember my first “big” writers conference and I felt the same way. (Praying not to throw up on anybody!) Now I’m multi-published, and last year I was a presenter at a writers conference–on the other side of the podium, but with the same crazy-nervous sleep-deprived feelings. Even worse when I got there and found out I had the biggest enrollment of any class–and I was going to be teaching in the huge lecture hall that sat over 200 people. And I recognized some of the names on my class list–local TV and radio celebrities. Yikes!

But once I got up there in front of them and started to speak, the calm came in. I made it through (without even throwing up) This summer I’ll be teaching at several, and I don’t think of them with the same nervousness at all. It does get easier–but there’s always a new baby step to take. Great post!

Gene Lempp

See, I knew you’d do great 🙂

Crystal Collier

Awesome! Congrats on your success. I love the post.

Pitching for me is the easy part. Writing the a blurb is cake. Queries, no big deal. Allowing my babies into the hands of readers… *trembling knees* It stinks being a perfectionist. *sigh*

Kerry Gans

Congrats on the pitching going well. I had a similar experience the first time I pitched (last year at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference).

And there IS a big difference between presenting and pitching. In pitching, you want something from the person you’re pitching to–that’s what makes it so nerve-wracking. In presenting, the audience wants something from YOU–you are simply supplying your knowledge (and charm), which should leave you very confident, since who else can be you better than you can?

Good luck with everything, and I’m glad you had a great experience!

Donna Hole
Donna Hole

I haven’t attended a conference in ages. I want to go to something this summer. good job on calming your nerves and putting yourself out there.


Shain Brown

Congratulations to a successful and fun weekend. Leaving the plane applies to life in general. I can remember so many times when the worrying, the stress, and fear vanished. The only thing left was to perform.

Next year will be the year I start attending events and I am looking forward to all the excitement, the fear, and meeting so many great writers.

Good Luck, and thanks for such a great post.


[…] Gold shares her first pitching experience and asks what’s the hardest “first step” you’ve ever taken. Lara Schiffbauer reminds us that most pressure comes from within, and it can be either […]

Coleen Patrick

You’d left the plane-that is so true! Just last week I was in a similar situation feeling so incredibly nervous and then when I was there, I was ok and I also wondered why. That explains it!
Congrats on getting requests! 🙂

Lynn Kelley

That’s great that you got the jitters out before you arrived at the conference. I love that skydiving analogy. That’s a good one. I used to get so nervous, too. Once I decided self-publishing was a viable option, I didn’t get so nervous, but let things run their course. I was much more comfortable talking to the editors and agents then because everything didn’t depend on going that route. I actually enjoyed talking to them more as peers or other people I met at the conference. Taking the pressure off makes it much more enjoyable! Good luck to you with your WIPs that were requested. That’s exciting!

August McLaughlin

Congrats, Jami! So glad you enjoyed the conference and pitched with confidence.

One of my hardest-ever first steps had nothing to do with writing or career. It was stepping into a pool to learn how to swim in my 20s. I’m a complete water-phobe and had never floated or even dunked myself fully under water until then. I nearly cried when I broke my not-floatable record…and scared the toddlers in the pool big time. 😉

Those first steps really often are the toughest, and the most important. Once we get past them, we have so much strength to carry over to the rest of our lives. I know the conference was another beginning of wonderfulness in your writing career.


[…] Experience. Before I left I ran across Jami Gold’s post about pre-conference jitters What’s The Hardest “First Step” You’ve Taken which I could totally relate to. I took her advice about getting into “no-turning […]


[…] can be painfully uncomfortable in group situations (to the point that I’ve had panic attacks before every in-person writing conference I’ve attended). On the inside, I’m cringing and thinking everything I say is idiotic […]


[…] at WANACon, I’ll be presenting at two in-person conferences this year. (Believe me, given the panic attacks I have before every in-person conference, this is a bigger risk than you might […]


[…] Gold shares her first pitching experience and asks what’s the hardest “first step” you’ve ever taken. Lara Schiffbauer reminds us that most pressure comes from within, and it can be either […]

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