‘People who are most afraid of their dreams convince themselves they don’t dream at all.’
~ The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck
I’ve written more than once about having confidence in yourself not only as a writer, but as a person — allowing yourself to tell your story. I had to reach that point myself in order to write Broken Pieces, and I’m still dealing with it as I write the next book in the Broken series, Broken Places.
Writers, especially newbie or young writers, are used to looking to others for validation: teachers, classmates, friends, family. I was no different. Like most writers, I started young, at age ten. I took many creative writing, poetry, and journalism classes in college. Then, once I graduated, I became a sales rep LOL (and hated it). For fifteen years.
I started writing seriously in 2008 (as in paid work). In our new online society, we receive validation in the form of comments on our blog, retweets, Facebook or Google+ shares, and book reviews once published. Sometimes the comments are positive, sometimes negative.
(I’ll cover reviews in a moment.)
The issue with looking to others for validation is that we aren’t trusting ourselves to know what’s good, and what to shred. We’re afraid to go too deep for fear that people won’t like what they see. In essence, we’re still acting like children searching for external approval.
I look back to college and think about how I studied: in my room, occasionally the library, by myself, tunes in, focused. I never did the study group thing — perhaps I should have — yet I still managed to graduate in four and a half years with a 3.4 GPA while working 32 hours/week. That lone introvert learned a valuable lesson — I learned how to learn. I learned how to trust myself. I learned when I was ready.
There’s a certain amount of detachment in that process — looking outside ourselves at our own behavior. Some would call that disassociation, a persistent friend I know quite well.
Before we can get to the point of writing our stories and sharing in those various places, we have to first do a little work. Ask yourself what’s holding you back. Typically, it’s one of these:
- What will my family think?
- What will my friends/coworkers think?
- What if people hate my work?
- What if I’m no good?
Sound familiar? Every writer asks themselves these questions. The trick is not letting them mindfuck us. Sorry if that offends you (you’ll get over it), but I bought into all that for a long time, too. Some authors never get past it, or write under a pen name or fictionalize real-life experiences in order to protect the innocent (usually, I find it’s the guilty) but that’s another post. That’s a decision each of us has to make.
I know. I get it. I never addressed or even discussed my childhood sexual abuse (at the hands of a neighbor dad) publicly. The shame stayed with me for many years. I was nervous about ‘outing’ my family (none of whom were guilty of anything) — by outing, I mean labeling them in a public way as the family of that girl. The one who was molested.
Humor is my defense. In fact, it’s a form of disassociation. I even wrote two nonfiction humor books that have done quite well. But it wasn’t a perfect fit. Even I could tell that I wasn’t going there — I wasn’t blasting deep into the truth. And then I came upon this quote by author and professor Lorrie Moore in Elle Magazine:
The only really good piece of advice I have for my students is, ‘Write something you’d never show your mother or father.’ That sentence alone, just that, was very freeing to me. I could write my essays, my poetry, my stories, with the raw honesty I felt the work, and I, needed. Turns out I didn’t need anyone’s permission…but my own.
Further, Moore says:
The detachment of the artist is kind of creepy. It’s kind of rude, and yet really it’s where art comes from. It’s not the same as courage. It’s closer to bad manners than to courage. […] if you’re going to be a writer, you basically have to say, ‘This is just who I am, and what I’m going to do.’ There’s a certain indefensibility about it.
And guess what? If you are a writer — and you need to own that you are — you don’t owe anyone an explanation about what you write. Would you tell an artist what to paint? A musician how to play a song? No, you wouldn’t dare, and neither would your family and friends.
You are an adult. Write like it.
Reviews are a form of validation — positive and negative. Part of that whole mindfuck of, ‘What will people say? What if they hate it?’ stops many writers. Too bad we can’t predict the future, right? See, here’s the thing. You want people to read your work. That should be the goal of any writer.
If your goal is to look to total strangers (you neither know or respect) for validation, you are already setting yourself up for failure. If you don’t consider yourself a success unless you have awards bestowed upon you along with heaps of praise, you will be sorely disappointed. It CAN happen, but I know this to be true: you have to define your own success. Will you only consider yourself if a success if you get all five-star reviews? If you can pay your rent with your royalties? If you sell thousands of copies? Those are all THINGS.
All that’s great, and entirely doable. But if that’s ALL that defines you, if that’s the only way you will feel successful, you’re missing it. Change your paradigm: what if success means that you have connected with others in similar situations? What if success means ten people read your work and love it — and one of those knows someone who knows someone who can get it made into a movie script? What if you connect with a local community (i.e., sexual abuse survivors), and become an advocate?
Reviews are a way to learn how people interpret your work, and who is your demographic. Nothing more. People will love your books, people will hate your books. Prepare yourself for that.
A FINAL WORD
Not writing your story the way you really want to is an excuse — you’re feeding your insecurities. Acknowledge them. We all have them. Then tie them up with a string, put them in your desk drawer, and sit down to write.
They’ll still be there when you’re done.