Dealing With Stage Fright: Fighting my Brain

I seem to have developed a strange case of stage fright. It wasn't always so, and it seems to be very specific. When I was a child, aside from wanting to write and illustrate children's books, I also wanted to be an actress and a singer-songwriter. I started playing guitar when I was eight and I kept going. I made a demo tape when I was thirteen, and I took a songwriters class at ASCAP in New York City when I was fifteen. (I was the youngest person in the class, by the way.) This is a photo of me performing at my high school talent show in 1978. I was singing Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game," and they had a quasi-Beatle-mania slide show of current news going on behind me on the stage.

For years I wanted to be "the next Joni Mitchell," which rang true because she was also an artist and painter. But as I got closer to college my brain took over the reins and kicked my heart out of the stage coach. My brain said, "being a singer-songwriter is not a safe career. You don't belong on a stage. You don't look good enough. You don't sing well enough, and you don't play well enough." My brain basically scared the shit out of me. My brain said, "be an illustrator and a writer. That is safe. You can do that, and put the work out there, not "you" personally." I said, "okay brain, you win."

But over the years, my quiet heart kept beating and hoping. I still picked up my guitars and wrote songs. I still sang to myself. I watched friends do well and not-so-well in musical careers, but either way, they had great stage presence. They were comfortable on that stage performing.

I am comfortable on a stage speaking about my books and about the craft of writing and illustrating. I've done keynotes to up to 1,200 people at the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in the past. I give workshops and teach in a relaxed way. But there seems to be two things I'm having trouble doing on a stage, albeit a small one: and that is singing and playing a song I wrote and telling the true story behind the adult novel I wrote that is currently out for submissions.

I'm going to be doing just that this coming Tuesday in my Ballard neighborhood, and it scares me to death. My brain keeps telling me, "you suck," and I'm trying really hard to shut it up. It's making me feel like I'm a fumbling idiot playing the instrument I can play beautifully when I'm not nervous... and it's making me mess up my own words. Words I know.

Somehow I have to put my brain in a straitjacket by next week so I can give my heart the confidence to say what it needs to say so I can tell the story that I need to tell; one that is so painful that maybe my brain is trying to stop me from sharing it. Yet in my heart there is a small voice that says, "you need to do this, and you need to get past this fear."

If you live in Seattle and you want to bear witness, the particulars are on the poster I added above. There are also five other confident folks plus an amazing MC who will entertain you with their prowess on that small platform with a microphone and a spotlight. We all have to deal with our challenges and as we do, we only grow from the experience. 

With Love, 


  1. You will be among friends (some of whom will be intoxicated), so remember, relax and have fun!

    1. That's so funny, and that's so you! Thank you Ms. MC.

  2. I totally get you, Nina. I teach all the time and have no problem, but when it comes to talking about my book, I get a bad case of stage fright. I'll be there rooting for you on Tuesday!

    1. So happy you'll be there Helen. We are all fragile people inside, really.

  3. Courage! And thank you for sharing this story. I've heard/seen you speak, and you have wonderful presence. Good luck with the event.


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