Pretendy Fun-Time Games: Stagefright

Today I’m going to talk about Roleplay Stage Fright, which is surprisingly more common than I expected it to be.

I mean, that’s basically what that anxiety feeling is when it’s put into context. There’s no stage, there’s no physical audience, but there’s no way your fingers are going to let you type out your performance.

I discussed this the other night with some friends, and its an aspect of participating in a creative community that’s important to me. In the last year, I’ve been suffering from the worst case of RP Stage Fright since I started noodling around with OCs on message boards when I was 10. I wish it was as simple as not wanting to roleplay with others — because that feels like a personal choice that’s acceptable. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from creative hobbies, and it often benefits the creator. RP Stage Fright, unfortunately, is more insidious…because despite whatever desire I have to create with others, my anxiety is giving me a sermon on why that’s a bad idea.

I have a clue as to why I’ve developed it, but I think it’s inherently tied to/is a form of writers block that comes about from creating in a social space.

I’ve sort of hammered out the cycle as follows:

  1. Person wants to RP but has been internally processing their writing and something is sticking out to them — a character trait, metaphor usage, diction itself — as not being adequate or up to speed with everyone else.
  2. This thought sticks and becomes a background track whenever they write something, RP with someone, or do anything in that creative vein.
  3. In fear/annoyance/disgust/anger/anxiety over this trait, they do not join RP events in order to avoid being criticized, corrected, or shown to be inadequate (do you see, do you see the repetition).
  4. The power behind the perceived inadequacy grows and becomes fact. Its so obvious to the writer/roleplayer — it has to be obvious to everyone else.
  5. RP opportunities continue to be avoided, even if they’re offered, out of a sense of sparing yourself and others the situation. If the individual does engage, there’s always a weird sense of internal anxiety about it.
  6. Repeat ad nauseum.

What’s interesting about observing this, particularly in writing it out, is how closely this reflects how the writers block cycle tends to go. Something presents itself as inadequate/worthless within writing and that builds on itself until it becomes an emotionless shame demon that is literally all you can focus on while you try and scrawl out a chapter. And even if you want to, you can’t face it down. There is the physical feeling of pressing your hands against a brick wall, pushing desperately but getting nowhere.

This RP form of writers block is a bit more socially active, however, because it involves other people. That’s where the stage fright factor comes in. Instead of being frozen in front of a word document, you’re in a conversation with actual people writing in real-time — and they want you to be a part of it. Immediately. Like now. And that is terrifying.

I think there are a couple ways to not break the habit, but make it a bit easier to ignore the habit. That voice of inadequacy will get quieter over time, but you’ve got to work on silencing it. It’s unfair to expect a miracle to happen in one day — that you’ll be able to write and roleplay with others like a dam’s broken. I hate that logic for one reason only, and it’s that it takes away your agency in the situation. You are so much better than whatever the subconscious shame demon’s peddling. If you don’t notice your worth, how can you expect others to?

Things to consider:

Wow, Two Cakes!: This is from a post that goes around on tumblr from user stuffman that breaks down the I’m not good enough argument pretty succinctly. Essentially, someone brings a cake to a cake contest and is down on themselves for their entry not being as gorgeous as the other contestant’s. The person who gets to eat the cakes, however, is absolutely delighted that they get to enjoy both — because regardless of how they look, it’s two cakes. I’ve noticed it’s pretty common for others to judge their work against someone else’s to prove how inadequate they are in a creative context. But those who love your writing, your characters, and your ideas are not going to come in and try and place them on an imaginary creative metric. No matter how much you think your writing sucks, I can 100% guarantee there are people out there who are going to be so excited to eat your word cake. I am absolutely certain about this.

Don’t Force Yourself to Do the Thing: There’s no question that writing a little each day helps build a creative practice, and practice is the path to succeeding at the craft. That’s patented fact, and it’s a tenet I personally ascribe to. However–and this is a personal opinion as someone who knows how I work–trying to break down the brick wall with your fists alone will end in blood and anger. Allow yourself a chance to sit back and work through issues! You can work up to producing something creative every day once you’re back up to speed.

Fake It Until You Make It: Every day say something nice to yourself about your writing, or find something that you like about a scene you were in. There is a trend within RP communities to confuse self-deprecation with humility. Don’t. Stop that. I will smack you with a newspaper until you stop. Your writing and your characters are just as viable as anybody else’s, and if someone else has told you otherwise, that is their damage. The more you take pleasure in your writing, your characters, and yourself, the easier it’ll be to ignore the shame demon.

Okay, Maybe Write A Little Each Day: Don’t force it, but it really doesn’t hurt to keep your mind spry and your vocabulary usage active. It doesn’t have to be anything important in the moment, but it’s important you remain active, because it gives you more of an understanding of your character — and therefore a level of familiarity/comfort. Do prompts. Write drabbles. Find face claims, stuff quotes that remind you of your character in a character-bible type document.

What is a Character Bible Because That Sounds Culty: Character Bibles, or Story Bibles, are reference materials put together by the creator that detail a story’s setting, background, character list — anything that is important to keep the story’s canon stable. I started using them about eight years ago, when I had a character with a heavy accent — I basically started jotting down his lexicon in order to have mannerisms to stick with. Eventually I expanded my bible use and created one for every character, detailing their backstories, their understanding of their world, how they regarded others and why they performed the acts they did. Its much easier to get into the headspace of a character if you have references, just as writing an academic paper is easier with sources. In essence, the Character Bible is a pick-ax to use against the writers block wall, one that doesn’t come with the innate pressure of creating something to your personal standard.

These are things I’ve started that have helped me to abate stage fright, and I do hope they work for you! If you have any tips and tricks, please feel free to leave comments down below. There are multiple ways to combat this feeling, and the more tricks you have at your disposal, the better!