I inherited Mom’s poker face – that calm-in-the-storm mask that has served me well throughout my life. It’s foolproof except for the tiny twitch in the corner of my left cheek, evidence that inside my head, I’m a screaming jungle of emotions, a dark mass of self doubt entwined with the past.

Picture that Zen-like face as I entered the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland last weekend. I was scheduled to pitch my unfinished book to two agents. But one look at the other writers mingling about and my inner critic began to shout. I was waay over-dressed. How had I forgotten that this is the land of plaid flannel?

Then I remembered the article I had consumed at 3:00 in the morning about surviving a writers’ conference. The well-respected author had listed three things to stand out of the crowd: wear something that makes you feel good; slow down when talking; ask interesting questions.  I planned on doing all three.

I am nothing if not a diligent student. To prepare for this conference, I spent my entire summer vacation completing the tasks suggested by the publishing pros. I read everything I could get my hands on that dealt with entering the publishing world in 2016.  It didn’t matter that I didn’t like that publishing was a fast-changing industry, a foreign place where I now had to participate in my own success in ways never imagined when I first thought about writing my book 20 years ago. None of that mattered.  I wanted my story to be read, and I now had a job to do.

So I created a website to show I meant business; started a Facebook author page; devoured the tips of publishing gurus who described the qualities of the perfect pitch and condensed my story into a gripping two-minute paragraph; memorized the pitch (but remembered I’d need to deliver it as if it wasn’t); made business cards; and even researched the background and interests of the agents I would be pitching to.  (Sounds creepy, I know.)

For the first hour of the conference I felt like I was playing dress-up.  Totally out of my comfort zone, I watched myself make small-talk at a round table of other writers as I sipped lukewarm tea, smiling self-consciously at the earnestness of topics discussed, and later, clapping at the opening speaker’s perfect speech, as if I hadn’t a care in the world.

But as time passed my smile grew genuine as I heard the squeals of delight when writers reconnected with each other, and again as I realized there was none of the yucky competition or jealousy that I had imagined would ooze through the walls and take hold of me.  This was my tribe. I liked these people. I felt supported. I looked at all the faces around me, and wished I knew all of their stories.

In the end, I made it through each pitch. What helped was remembering that agents survive because of great storytellers. They have a job to do, but so do I.  I even silenced my inner critic when they each asked to see my work.  And that’s when it hit me.  I can do this. I belong here.

How do you handle your inner critic when faced with a new challenge?

Please share your comments or answers to the question in the comment section below


  1. Marnissa on September 3, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Rarely does a story collection pack such a gusty emotional punch.. Vanya style creates such turmoil and also intense identification … Thank you for sharing your truth .. MB

  2. Cathy Krizik on September 9, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Vanya, I’ve been checking out your site. Well done. It’s lovely to actually read your words rather than hear them. Congrats on all your success and you’re willing to step out and up. Not sure I have the courage to do the writers conference thing but your postings moves me one step closer. Thanks for being an inspiration….and showing the rest of us the way.

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