For The Writer Who is Afraid
I am going to start this particular post with a horror story.
Young or squeamish writers, please hide your eyes.
Unsuspecting writer, chatting comfortably with an older relative, friend from high school, or new acquaintance.
“Well, between work and writing, I don’t have a lot of time—”
Excited gasp. (Or possibly judgmental sniff.)
“Oh, that’s right! You’re writing a book. Can I read it?”
Cue instant terror.
Writers, sharing your work is hard. Our stories are little bits of our heart and soul, and offering them up for the world to read, judge, and possibly reject, is incredibly hard. It takes practice, a thick skin, and a lot of courage. Writing in itself is hard enough, and once you add imposter syndrome, harsh critiques, and well-meaning questions like, when are you going to get a real job, it gets a thousand times harder. Sometimes, it really would be easier to hide beneath your desk with a blanket, a jar of chocolate chips, and a fancy pen while you do all your writing in secret. Who really needs to know, after all?
I admit, that would be the easiest way out. In my seven years as a writer, I have run the gauntlet of reactions to my writing. Thankfully, most of the people that have read my writing have loved it. But—things happen.
And, honestly, the ones that sting are the ones that you remember.
So, yes, sharing your writing, even with the most select people, is hard. It’s scary. Because what if they hate it? What if they skim through, laugh, point out a typo, and change the subject? (This has actually happened to me.) What if, after begging for a copy for weeks, they just . . . never read it? (Also something that has happened to me.)
What if they actually have constructive criticism that helps make your book a thousand times better and yet still stings like needles when you hear it?
It’s natural to be afraid of sharing your work, but living according to your fears is always—always—a mistake. So when you are afraid, please remember this:
1) You CAN be selective.
It is okay to say no.
I’m giving you permission. Right now. You can tell your great aunt, or that one friend, or anyone at all, that you can’t send them your book. They can buy a copy when it comes out. Until it’s sitting on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, you do not have to let anyone and everyone read it. Never, never feel guilty about telling someone no. Do it kindly, but do it firmly. No explanation is necessary. You do not have to have a legitimate excuse. Feel completely free to tell them that it isn’t finished yet, and they are welcome to buy it when it is. Or, if it’s easier, laugh and tell them you’ll send them a signed copy when it gets released.
You don’t owe anyone advanced copies of your work.
2) It’s okay to start small.
After seven years of writing (and sharing my writing), I have completely and totally conquered my fear. I’m not scared of people reading what I write anymore.
Okay, that’s a lie. I lied. I’m sorry.
The point is, practice helps. Let someone who you trust read what you’ve written. Maybe someone who already likes the kinds of stories you write. Or write a short story, and share it on your social media. Have a blog. Offering something that’s not quite so near and dear to your heart is a good way to try out a bit of author vulnerability without the jarring reality of your entire book being at someone’s mercy. Do it a bit at a time, and you’ll learn not to be so terrified of it.
3) It’s not a bad thing to be afraid.
Panic. Breathe into a paper bag. Cry a little, if you really need to. It’s okay to freak out, and it’s okay to be afraid.
It is not okay to hide forever.
You’re a writer. A communicator. You have a story to tell, and somewhere out there is a reader who needs your story. Make it the best that it can be, write with your heart and your soul and every single bit of passion you can possibly muster, and then release it. Let it go. Let it be read and critiqued and loved and hated. Let it be free.
If you need chocolate or wine, I know where you can get both.
The point is, you can be as afraid as you like, but take the plunge anyway. You will never grow as a writer or a person if you don’t walk through fear at least occasionally.
4) Your story is not set in stone.
No, you definitely should not be changing your book based on the whim of every reader who has an opinion about it. Never, never do that. Please. That is a terrible, awful idea that will scramble your book and erase everything that is uniquely you about it.
Feedback is immensely important as a writer. Without it, we grow stagnant. Our stories become stale. We stop learning. So listen. Consider the comments, however much they sting. Set some of them aside. Apply others. Use your own judgment, because this is your book and you are the author. They are not writing it. You are.
And you know what? It’s okay to change things. It’s also okay to thank them for their thoughts and leave things the way they were.
It’s also also okay to change it, but not quite the way they told you to.
You are the author. You know your story. Allow it room to grow, but don’t hand it off to every single person with an opinion.
There is a balance here, I promise. Find it.
5) You have not failed if someone doesn’t like what you’ve written.
Time for some perspective, dearest writer.
One comment is one comment. It’s not the end of your career, or of the world. It stings for now, but it will be okay.
You’re learning. You’re growing. You had the courage and the audacity to share a tiny piece of your soul, and that alone is a feat worth bragging about. All of the hard work that you have poured into your art is not wasted, and you are stronger because of your vulnerability.
You cannot fail as a writer until you have given up on yourself. Every stumbling block, every bit of reckless, wild courage, every deleted word and rejected chapter has something to teach you. You are learning.
And a writer who is willing to learn is a writer who is in very little danger of ever failing.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.