This might come as a shock, but I’m something of an introvert. I know, I know – writers are usually such outgoing people. Still, there are a handful of us who aren’t quite Oscar Wilde, and for me, large social events can often be exhausting.
Over the past couple of weeks, as part of my new job, I’ve been running a summer school. I’d never done any kind of event management before, and suddenly I had to be in charge of a two-week-long summer school with twenty-five participants, managing the attendees, the speakers and the logistics of the entire thing.
To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was completely, overwhelmingly terrified, convinced that I was going to get something drastically wrong and crash and burn out of my new job before I’d even finished my probation. Maybe I’d mess up one of the important meals, or have a total IT failure, or accidentally drop one of the delegates in the river. Anything could happen.
Running the summer school took me completely out of my comfort zone as an introvert – but I made it through, and I learned a lot on the way. Things like…
Listen to Sir Terry
When I was first told I was going to take over and run a summer school, I sat there like a rabbit in the headlights. I had to pick up from my predecessor (who hadn’t exactly left me comprehensive notes) and run a two-week course with twenty-five attendees, lots of activities, and a large sprinkling of rather high-profile speakers. It was too big a task, almost too big to think about.
Somewhere in the middle of my panic, a little voice spoke to me. That little voice happened to be fictional, and belong to a character in one of Terry Pratchett’s early novels, Truckers.
“The way to deal with an impossible task was to chop it down into a number of merely very difficult tasks, and break each one of them into a group of horribly hard tasks, and each one of them into tricky jobs, and each one of them…”
Keeping in mind the wisdom of the Nomes (read the book, it’ll make sense), I started chopping the work into smaller, manageable pieces. I didn’t have to run a summer school. I just had to email this one speaker. And then I just had to phone the venue. And then talk to one of the attendees. And on and on like that, taking tiny little steps, until eventually, everything was done.
Go to the Mattresses
Even breaking down the tasks didn’t always help. By the middle of the summer school, after days of being ‘on’, I was burned out. Being an introvert means that being around people takes energy (whereas, for extroverts, being around people is a source of energy). Doesn’t mean that we hate people, or social events, just that we also need a good measure of alone time to recharge.
When you’re the first port of call for twenty-five people, for a two-week stretch, you don’t get much alone time. In the evenings, I was too exhausted to do anything more than collapse on my bed and sleep.
Turned out, this was exactly what I needed to do to limp through it. Recharging just enough each night to be ready for the next day. It put a bit of a crimp in my social life, and I had to switch off the guilt about not seeing enough of my friends, but it meant I made it through.
Seriously, listen to Sir Terry
No matter how well you plan any event, things will go wrong. Usually at the last minute. There’s no getting around it. For a chronic overplanner like me, this was a really difficult thing to get used to.
I was tearing my hair out over last-minute changes and sudden drop-the-ball, find-the-speaker moments, until I remembered a snippet from Terry Pratchett’s Thud! Early on in the novel, Commander Vimes has got to get home, across the very congested city of Ankh-Morpork, in time to read a bedtime story to his son. In order to get him there on time, one of the leading figures in the City Watch, Captain Carrot, carries out a leviathan traffic diversion:
“But that was Carrot all over. There was a problem, and now it’s gone. Admittedly, the whole city is probably solid with wagons now, but that’s a new problem.”
Carrot sees a problem, and does whatever is necessary to solve that problem. The solution might cause new problems. He then solves those problems too.
I don’t know why it helped, but it did. Applying The Carrot Method to any problems that arose somehow made them much easier to tackle.
Worried as I was about my first event, I made it through. Not only that, it went really well – a lot of the attendees told me that they had a great time. Now, I feel like I’m ready to tackle it again. All I need is a comfy bed, and a big stack of Pratchett books.
Ally’s YA novel, Spider Circus, is available from Amazon and Smashwords. She writes a webcomic, Footloose, co-created and illustrated by Emily Brady. Her writing- and food-based ramblings can be found on Twitter and Facebook.