Shaking Off the Nervous Daze of First Days

And away Kay goes on the bus to her final year in Elementary School.I’m pretty good about remembering things, but for the life of me I can’t remember anything specific about my first days of school.

I suspect it’s because they always felt like I was walking through a foggy cloud of nerves. As a kindergartener, I was entering a new world, learning a new language, and all I remember is my teacher showing me how to tie my shoes. Of course I had plenty of first days of school, and I was oftentimes the new girl, worried about whether I’d fit in or wear the right outfits. And college…well, it was such a huge campus I thought I’d get lost in it.

You’d think that after so many firsts, I’d have figured out how to handle the nerves. After all, isn’t every new endeavor in life a lot like the first days of school? We’re a mixture of excited and intimidated at the thought of meeting new people, anxious to learn new things yet scared we might fail, and always ever so obsessed with fitting in.

I felt this way the first time I attended a writer’s conference as an author and was asked to speak in front of the 200+ writers in the audience. I felt this way when I first learned I’d been chosen as a 2014 Deb, honored but also nervous about being trusted with such a long tradition by such a talented group of writers. And I feel this way still sometimes, when I think of my launch into the publishing world.

But then I remember: I’m only nervous because it hasn’t happened yet. I keep thinking I need to take steps to become “ready” while forgetting that the most important step is one none of us can do ahead of time: the doing.

Things are always scary when they’re mixed with the anticipation of the unknown. Once they actually begin, we become so busy living it, enjoying it, tackling it, that we rarely give a second thought to nerves. This is how it worked with that writer’s conference I spoke at, and it’s how it worked once I started getting to know the Debs.

No amount of planning could have prepared me for the thrill of the actual moment when I looked around and thought, “This is so much better than I ever imagined it could be.”

I suspect my publishing journey will be the same. Only this time, I’m embracing the nerves and pushing away the foggy clouds. I want to remember every single first along the way.

How do you deal with nerves when you’re approaching a new first in your life?

Photo credit: Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup

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Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at nataliasylvester.com

15 thoughts on “Shaking Off the Nervous Daze of First Days

  1. I can relate to the conference jitters, Natalia! The first time I spoke at one I was so nervous I thought I might puke. The funny thing is, I’ve been a teacher for 13 years and been in front of large crowds of parents at banquets, etc. And STILL I wasn’t prepared for how it would feel to be in front of my writer colleagues. These people I admired and respected so much that on some level it was shocking to me they would want to hear what I had to say. Luckily, it went great! But I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who gets nervous! 🙂

    • I haven’t spoken much in public, but I agree that it’s different speaking in front of writers; initially, I was MORE nervous because of this, but then after the fact, it felt so much more rewarding because no one gets writers quite like a room full of writers. Now I’m actually looking forward to the next time!

  2. Great post, Natalia! I love your decision to focus on, and enjoy, each step as you’re in it, rather than worrying about the steps yet to come or the ones that have already gone by. I’ve read quite a bit of Buddhist teachings and this one–being in the present moment–is the one that’s made the biggest difference in my life. I don’t pull it off every day (by a long shot) but posts like this are a wonderful reminder to get myself back into the present moment. For you, with a debut novel about to come out, this is a surefire way to allow yourself to enjoy each exciting day as it comes. What a shame it would be to dilute that excitement with worries about what will be next month, regrets about what did not occur last month, etc. Good luck with the mindful, present-moment debut author experience!

    • At the writer’s conference I mentioned, I asked another writer (who is just a MASTER at public speaking) how he does it without getting nervous, and he said he’s still always nervous. It’s just that he’s learned to embrace the nerves as part of the rush and excitement of the whole process. So I’m trying to think of it that way; the nerves might never go away, but maybe (just maybe) we can learn to love them.

  3. Except for public speaking (which causes me palpitations starting weeks ahead of time), I often don’t feel the nerves until after the fact. That’s when I suddenly look around and go, oh-my-god and starting spazzing out in my head. 🙂

    • I only found out I was speaking at my first writer’s conference two days ahead of time, so I crammed a couple of weeks’ worth of nerves into 48 hours. I was lovely to be around during that time 😉

  4. I think you’re right, that nothing really gets you ready, but preparation can make a big difference. I wrote about that recently on my blog: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=4327. It can help you get to that point where you think that the reality is better than anything your imagination could have conjured up.

    Public speaking can be intimidating, but I’ve found that it makes a huge difference to know your material.

    I’m in the early stages of a new writing project, and it helps a bit that I have some idea where I’m going, and it’s not the first one.

    • All good points. I like how you mention both preparation and being able to pull things together on the fly. I think both are great things to have. I, too, am a HUGE fan of preparing (I’m guilty of overpreparing, which is why I often have to remind myself that there does come a point where you just have to do the actual thing you’re preparing for). I think one of the most important things we have to be prepared for is to improvise a bit, to not lose control when things inevitably go wrong or not quite as planned. And funny enough, the best way to be able to do that is to practice your skill, over and over, until you’re confident enough with it to wing it a little. When I used to do dance, there were always countless rehearsals, but there also came a point, five, maybe ten minutes before going on stage, when I knew that I had to stop and just trust that I’d done my job. And let myself enjoy it.

  5. I’m like you – I’m nervous until the thing gets started, and then I’m often surprised by the fact that it’s better than I ever expected. I felt exactly that way when I started as a Deb, and when I started teaching law, and when my debut novel published.

    Embrace those nerves and enjoy the journey!!

  6. Honestly, I try to remember that the nerves go away. I found that I’m more nervous before an event than during it…and that everyone there is there to see you succeed, they want to be there (unless it’s family who is obligated) and they are interested and happy (that’s why I always have snacks at book events).

    You will do GREAT. Even if you’re nervous!

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