Getting over my performance anxiety… sort of.
I don’t like to use terms related to mental health issues lightly. I don’t think liking things clean should be called OCD, I don’t think being a bit glum is Depression. With this in mind, I won’t say I have a definite PHOBIA of acting, but I will say that when I was an extra in the background of one scene in Gracemarch, I was so desperately terrified and uncomfortable that I would rather give birth again than ever be required to act again. I was shaking, I felt sick, I was dizzy, and I have refused to ever put myself through that experience again.
When Jonathan McKinney and I decided to start doing a free writing advice series on YouTube, I was suddenly thrown back into that moment.
I’ve done promo things before, talking about our work and what we’re doing, and as long as I’m not required to act, I can talk with relative confidence as myself. I know I don’t do well in front of a big crowd, and I get definite and intense performance anxiety (nightmares in the build up to a public appearance, neurotic obsession afterwards), but it’s something I’m getting better at managing. So when we came up with the idea, it felt like something I could cope with. I’d just be talking about something we talk about all the time for our work anyway, and I wouldn’t be required to act as another person. Until we came to do our first filming.
Our concept is simple, we wanted to make this series of videos, but our days are so rammed with work and children that we couldn’t think of a time we had reliably free to do it. But we have a dog, and a dog who requires walking.
One selfie stick purchase later, we were set. We take Mollydog out for walks anyway, and this way we can combine the two. Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking was conjured, and we set off for the park ready to talk and dog walk.
Our intro is simple, it’s the same in all the podcasts and promo things we’ve ever done. “Hi, I’m JJ Barnes, and this is Jonathan McKinney, and you’re watching/listening to…”
Could I say it? Could I bloody heck.
I won’t tell you some of the things I did say. They’re the words my mother blushes and my father scowls about me using. Repeatedly. Loudly.
Fortunately it was a chilly day and the kids are all in school, so no little ears were around to witness my panicking profanity. Jonathan, used to my spikes in anxiety, coaxed me down and gave me a hug and promised that a) we didn’t have to do it and b) it didn’t matter if I needed fifty takes.
So, at least fifty takes later, I got it out.
And, despite the odds, I actually got into it!
I love talking about writing, stories, and story craft. It’s something Jonathan and I will talk about for hours on end when we’re cooking or driving or at a social event and studiously ignoring all other humans in favour of talking only to each other. Realising that we were just having these same conversations that we love to have, but also potentially helping other people get the confidence and knowledge they need to write stories of their own, I settled into making the videos.
I’m still incredibly awkward… watching the videos back I realised the faces I make when I’m talking or moving around are ridiculously goofy. I get my words muddled up, somehow “Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking” feels like a tongue twister in my mouth whenever I say it on camera, even though I can say it like perfectly fine the rest of the time. Also I’m prone to a nervous waffle.
HOWEVER, I’m also pretty certain what we’re doing is good. So many times I’ve been asked for writing advice or tips by people, and I always try to answer as many as I can because I truly believe writing is one of the most beautiful things you can do with your time, and if more people find they can do it then more people will have that joy in their life. But this way, we are able to reach more people with each answer.
Whilst I am still 100% certain that an actors life is not for me, I am happy to have conquered some of my performance anxiety about talking on camera. Plus our kids are utterly delighted to see Mummy and Daddy on YouTube and are busily teaching us all the sayings we need to utilise to build our audience. “Smash that like button!” will never sound natural out of my mouth, I’m far too old, but when I attempt it they aren’t half thrilled.
You can find our series Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking on the Siren Stories YouTube channel. We are giving free writing advice and tips, in the context of popular books, films and TV shows, to help anyone, aspiring or experienced, with their story telling craft. Come find us, ask us any questions you want answering, and we’ll do our best to help as many people as possible!