Stepping Out There: A Guide For Shy Writers

by Judith Ashley

Thanks, Rebecca, for having me here today as your guest at Once Written, Twice Shy. I’m going to share a process for shy writers who want to more easily and effortlessly ‘step out there’.

People who know me don’t always believe I am a shy person. Why is that? Because they see me ‘stepping out there’ - in front of people, doing workshops, speaking to groups, approaching others and striking up conversations. Because they know my professional background as a child protective service worker and emergency responder for adults and people with disabilities, they assume I’m not shy and it’s easy for me to ‘step out there’. However, in some situations I am a consummately shy person.

How can you ‘step out there’ if you’re shy? 
In some ways it’s easy. None of us are any one thing all of the time. Our roles shift constantly. One minute we’re writing, the next we’re parenting. One minute we’re an employee, the next we’re interacting with a customer. There are times and places where we are ‘stepping out there’ and anyone who saw us would not believe we’re shy.

1. What would be different for you if you did not see yourself as shy? How would your life be better?
2. Where in your life have you ever been Outgoing? Dynamic? Assertive?

3. How does being shy ‘serve’ you? What benefit is there for you to see yourself as ‘shy’?

I’ll answer the last question from my point of view. I come from the perspective that all behavior/choices are purposeful. And, in general terms our choices either support something we want or protect us from something we don’t want. I really do not like people to see me as incompetent (not that anyone really wants to be seen that way but for some of us, it is more important to be seen as competent than it is for others).

Being ‘shy’ is protective. I can be shy until I know the situation, the people well enough to feel safe, to let them know that I’m not always so on top of things. I can size up the other people, compare myself to them, see where I fit in, and then step forward. If I’m challenged, “I’m just shy” explains it all.

If we want to change anything in our life, it’s important to understand how our life will be better when we are successful. (It’s impossible to successfully change anything if we think our life will be worse). Here are a couple of questions to help you inventory your ‘shyness quotient’.

A. Why do you think you’re shy? 
B. What specifically do you do when you are shy? 
C. What are you thinking at your shyest?

D. What are your emotional feelings?

E. How does being ’shy’ show up in your body? (Tip: blush, sweaty palms, etc.).

 F. On a scale of 1 – 10 rate your desire to change.

If your desire to change is an 8 or higher, your chance of success is high. You have the internal motivation to do something different. It isn’t that you can’t succeed if you’ve a 7 – it’s just you’ll work harder because of your own doubts that this is the path you want to be on.

In the end, there is nothing wrong with being shy. If you like where you are, then you should stay there. You may find that being shy helps you in new situations and that as time passes, you are less shy.

With more and more emphasis on doing your own promotion, from time to time, you’ll need to face people, especially when you are published and at a book signing. If you are truly shy and in looking back over your life there is no time, place, or situation where you are not shy, then you may want to seriously consider hiring someone to do all of your promotion for you. However, if you see glimmers or even periods of time when you were not shy, then read on and make your plan.

Below are a few tips to assist you in stepping out there.
A. Think of times in your life when you have successfully stepped out there, been assertive, dynamic. What was going on then? How can you replicate some if not most of that situation in the present? Pay attention to what you were thinking and doing at those times.

B. Give yourself a goal, something to strive for so you know you’ve been successful. It could be as simple as introducing yourself to someone new or passing out your business cards at a meeting, conference, or grocery store. (I keep them in my purse so when someone asks me what I do, I whip a card out. I’ve passed them out at coffee shops, my doctor’s office, and shops).

C. And, have a reward for yourself when you do step out there. What do you want enough to take the risk? I often treat myself to a ‘day off’ where I don’t have to meet anyone.

D. Have a plan for taking care of yourself if you are overwhelmed. A trip to the Ladies Room for a time out, stepping outside the room and taking a deep breath, pacing a hallway, looking for a friendly face (it is okay to pair up with someone and try these things out).

Most important? Make sure you remind yourself of the long term dream you support when you are ‘stepping out there’.
© 2012 Judith Ashley All Rights Reserved


  1. Thanks so much for coming on today, Judith. Great article.

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for having me. And if any of your readers have questions, I'll be checking back in today also.

  3. What an interesting post, Judith! For those of you who don't know me, I'm Judith's friend and co-owner of the group blog, Romancing the Genres.

    I have a confession to make: I am NOT shy. But I know Judith is very smart about people, so I thought I'd stop by to see what she had to say.

    I'm glad I did! Just as most shy people have times in their lives where they've successfully stepped 'out there,' people who aren't shy have times/events that challenge their self-confidence in a social setting. I personally worry about being too loud or hogging the conversation.

    Judith's process can work for me, too. Rock on, Judith!

  4. Very good assessment, Judith! I know what you mean about "stepping out there." I wonder how on earth anyone could find me interesting. But people seem fascinated by certain aspects of my life I consider "everyday." I have to remember that if I'm interested in it, someone else might be, too. I only have to open myself up to the conversation.
    However, I find it particularly exhausting, so I appreciate your tip D - have a plan to take care of myself if I need a break. I'll have to make sure I do that at RWA Nationals.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah. All change comes about when we first decide what we want different, then inventory what we've done to change, check out if we've ever managed to be different even for a short time...when we've done that work, it can be easy to make a successful plan to change.

    Glad the "Stepping Out There" tips helped an extrovert too.

  6. Hi Tam,

    Yes, Nationals will be a great place to practice taking care of yourself! Still not sure I'm going - too many plates in the air right now. My aunt is celebrating her 103 birthday on July 30th and that is my first priority.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Judith, Good information! I'm shy, but I know if I want to sell books I have to put myself out there. It's easier for me to get in front of people and talk if I'm talking about writing because it is something I'm passionate about.

  8. That is one of the keys, Paty. When we are passionate about something, it is easier to step out there. Thanks for stopping by.

    BTW: I see you are up at Sweethearts of the West talking about early weather forecasters. Great post!

  9. When I joined RCWA a year ago I would tell myself before each meeting that this time I would actually talk to the person next me. I'm embarrased to admit that I failed for several meetings. I felt like I was back in the HS Cafeteria. Now it seems silly, as I'm feeling much more at home there. This is a great group, and I truly believe that romance writers are some of the kindest and most fun people you'll ever meet!

  10. I totally agree, Tammy. Romance Writers were always welcoming and supportive of me as a newbie and continue to be so. I also like the interest we show in each other's work - interest without jealousy.

    Thanks for stopping by!