Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Judith Arnold

Giving a speech is no more frightening to me than writing a novel. You will note that I didn’t say public speaking wasn’t frightening. It is. But so is writing. In both cases, the fear is the same: does anyone really care about what I have to say?

I write to communicate. I believe I’ve got ideas worth sharing with others. I believe, despite my fears, that what I have to say will mean something to my audience. I believe my books can make readers laugh, cry, think, and feel. I believe my speeches can make a live audience laugh, cry, think and feel, too. More often than not, I make my audiences laugh, but I’ve been told, on occasion, that a speech I’ve given has left audience members shedding a few tears.

Of course, public speaking isn’t the same thing as writing. The experiences differ in three important ways:

  1. When I’m giving a speech, I dress a hell of a lot better than when I’m writing. I can’t recall ever putting on lipstick before I sat down to write. For public speeches, I’ll poke around my meager supply of cosmetics and attempt to pretty myself up.
  2. When I’m speaking in public, I don’t have the opportunity to go back and fix what I’ve said once I’ve uttered it. If I’m writing, I can fuss and revise and polish each sentence before I move on to the next sentence. With a speech, once a statement has left my mouth, it’s out there forever. Because of this, I usually type up my entire speech ahead of time. No index cards and single-word cues for me. I write out the whole thing and do all the fussing and revising and polishing in that draft. When I actually give the speech, I don’t read it. I often don’t even look much at what I’ve written. But I have the draft in front of me, with all its fussed-over, revised and polished sentences printed out. Just knowing I took care with those sentences at some point gives me the courage to keep going. 
  3. With a speech, I get instant feedback. If I say something funny and everyone laughs, I know I’ve succeeded. With a book, there’s no instant feedback. I’ll write a passage that strikes me as funny, and then cross my fingers and hope the passage will amuse my readers. But I won’t know for sure until my editor phones and says, “That line about the casseroles was hilarious,” or until I get some reviews, which might be a year after I actually wrote the line about the casseroles.

Despite these differences, public speaking and novel writing are pretty similar in my mind. Both require a leap of faith. Both require confidence that I have ideas worth expressing. Both make me feel vulnerable. Both are kind of scary. But if things go well, if the world agrees with me that my ideas are indeed worth expressing, both make me feel exhilarated.

However, I’m not going to wear lipstick when I write. Only when I speak.

Judith Arnold has a busy public speaking schedule this year. She recently presented workshops to writers’ groups in New Hampshire and Maine, and will be leading a discussion at the NECRWA conference in Massachusetts in May and speaking at the Romance Writers of America national conference in July. She’s been putting her lipstick collection to good use.

In the meantime, the Kindle edition of her new mystery release, Dead Ball, is priced at only $1.99 for a limited time, as part of a special promotion at Amazon. Grab a copy while it’s discounted! You can visit her web site  to learn about her independently published romances. For more information about her upcoming titles, discounts and deals, please sign up for her newsletter.


  1. Judith, great post. I'm starting to think about the lipstick. Maybe not a bad idea for pretending there's an audience I'm talking to...And now I have to wonder about the casseroles..

    1. The casserole joke is in DEAD BALL, Sheila. And as you can see from the photo of me speaking in Maine, I do not go for flashy lipstick. I wear it more for myself than for the audience, I think. It reminds me that I'm not secluded in my office, talking only to myself.

  2. Great post, Judith! I never thought of those similarities, but you make fabulous sense! As for cosmetics, the only time I've applied lipstick to sit in front of a computer is to Skype with a book club--I also bring my own wine.

    1. Skype is good news/bad news. It's great to see the person you're talking to...but that person can see you, too. So you've got to brush your hair and fix yourself up a little before Skype-ing.