Own Who You Are By Elizabeth Mitchell

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.

~*~

Elizabeth Mitchell

10 comments

  1. Good for you! I actually do hide my writing from a lot of people because of the dark paranormal stuff I write. However, now that I’m also writing under another pen name, I’m not hiding that one. I’ve never been ashamed of being a writer, but I’m careful not to offend my church friends. I’m glad you’ve learned to own who you are. I know it’s been a long journey for you. I’m proud of you!

  2. Thank you, Lauralynn. You have a good reason to “hide” your writing, because of the genre, and I understand that reason, as well as the writers of erotica who use a pen name. I have hidden that I write anything, and that is not a good reason!

    There will be changes in the public persona as I work through how to own up, so stay tuned! I appreciate your support through this journey so very much.

  3. As we’ve all been trained (from the day we were born really) to put on the polite mask for the comfort of society (don’t be rude, don’t cause a scene, etc.)… it can be very hard, almost impossible for us to let go and reveal hints of our inner selves. Saying to the world you are a writer is an excellent first step. I find I still prevaricate about that point, more than I’m comfortable admitting….

    1. Well, I’m pretty uncomfortable, still about my Wonder Woman side (grin), especially when faced with the “what have you written,” and who published it, and all the questions that come after the announcement.

      But I do see it as part of me, like brown eyes and freckles, despite not having anything “out there.” We’ll see how the various revelations go . . .

  4. Congratulations on owning that part of you that has been hidden. I found it VERY difficult to simply say, “Yes, I’m a writer.” It was almost as difficult to decide to self-publish rather than commit to the long process of finding an agent and perhaps a publisher. But as a retired person who finally said ‘yes’ to writing, this journey has been tremendously affirming. Because you are balancing your own writing with work-related writing, you will face challenges. Some days you may not have the energy to write. But you are STILL A WRITER, and I am looking forward to that day when your stuff IS ‘out there.’

    1. Thank you, Beth. I appreciate the viewpoint from the other side of retirement. I sometimes think I should just pack it in until retirement, but I find it rewarding despite the juggling.

      And thank you for the encouragement!

  5. Both my mother and my mother-in-law make me crazy putting themselves down. No one can hardly say a thing to them without them making a negative comment about their cooking or their hairs or whatever the topic is. With that in mind, I bite my tongue to keep from sounding like them whenever anyone says anything positive about me or my writing. I think there is a fine line between sounding arrogant and being upbeat about oneself.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject and for inspiring us to let who we are out.

    1. I sometimes have the experience of seeing my words hanging in the air, realizing how much I sound like my mother, who, may she rest in peace, could turn away any compliment with something negative.

      I’m finally realizing that a simple “thank you” works well, and that there is a large grey area between arrogance and positive affirmation.

      Thank you for your thoughts and encouragement, Chris.

  6. My mother grew up that same way, and taught us that, as well. Of course she did; it was what she knew, and it maddens me to hear her still talking about herself that way. Our dad, on the other hand, was very self-assured and had no qualms about accepting compliments. Between the two of them, we kids grew up confused. but all four of us kids have played on the stage, where you HAVE to draw attention to yourself, you HAVE to know how to accept compliments, you HAVE to show an assured face. Learning how to do this has helped us kids considerably, and now I embrace who I am and own it proudly. I am a WRITER! AND an actor, to boot, but primarily a WRITER. Who cares that I had not written in months – I was taking a break, but I was and am still a WRITER.

    I am so happy for you that you have started taking those steps out of the cave of self-negation and self-denigration. You are worthy of your praise, and you deserve to be able to accept it. Hooray, you!

    1. Thank you, Tammy. I do think acting would help with self-esteem. And yes, taking a break does not negate the reality of being a writer. I like that thought.

      Thank you for the encouragement and kind words. I’ll be taking a few more steps out of the cave soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s