I grew up in the bad old days when properly brought up ladies did not boast. How that plays out in real life is one diminishes one’s accomplishments, but also turns away compliments. So when I hear, “Nice writing,” I reply with, “It’s nothing special.” It’s the writer’s equivalent of responding “This old thing?” to a compliment about a dress. August McLaughlin said some very nice words about a review I wrote of her Girl Boner podcasts. My instinctive reaction came immediately to the fore, and I deflected her praise. Finally I realized it was impolite to reject her kind words, so I managed to say thank you.
Most of my family knows nothing about my writing, partly because it would be boasting to do anything to call attention to myself, or to talk about my accomplishments. I spent a lot of time conflicted about my writing, but I scribbled in notebooks in solitude and put them in drawers away from sight. It remained a secret conflict for decades.
I was at my brother’s wake when my secret came into the open. As I reacquainted myself with my nephew’s mother-in-law, she said, “Oh, you’re the writer.” I wanted to fall through the floor, or insist, “Not me,” but part of me refused to deny it. I don’t know to this day how my brother knew my secret. For a second, I was angry at him for telling his friends about me, but I quickly realized he must have been proud of my baby steps toward being a writer. Instead of denying it, I stood up a little straighter, and said, “Yes, I’m the writer.”
Exposing ourselves as writers swirls many feelings into conflict. Many of us are introverts, and uncomfortable with exposure. Publishing makes us vulnerable to the bad review, but the good review has its own danger, where one feels the pressure to keep writing more good books as the audience begins to expect them. And even if one writes well, one has to write fast, before the audience moves on to another author.
Even before we have published a work, we twist ourselves in knots over the pressure to succeed by building and keeping an audience. Another lesson from my childhood was I had to hide how smart I was, since I didn’t have beauty to cover for my brains. Since my inner nerd rampages through my writing, I worry that my posts and my fiction are too boring.
Also, writing carries its own vulnerability, because one has to look deep into oneself, to contemplate the wounds and scars within. I realized I was not alone in this struggle when Shan’s post appeared, writing about the exact podcast on which I based my review of August’s podcasts, and talking about how hard it was for her to be vulnerable. I opened my blog reader this morning to find that Shan has written a followup post where she describes how the comments and social media reaction to her earlier post are encouraging her to continue her baby steps to self-revelation.
With all the support I’ve gotten in the past from the RoW80 group and other writers, I’m slowly coming out of my cave. I am now saying to myself, “Own who you are. Tell the people who matter to you that you are a writer.” It’s scary after so many years of hiding, but I believe it is a necessary step to writing with more authenticity and embracing the vulnerability that accompanies writing. I encourage all the RoWers to assess when one is hiding for whatever reason, and to make a small step to come out to the lip of the cave with me.