Writer’s Dilemma

I was in our outdoor shower this morning, my mind wandering to several years ago when I wrote a monthly column for a newspaper. A bumblebee joined me mid thought, all buzzing and hyperactive, drawing my attention outward, which is sometimes a good thing for me. I surrendered to the moment at hand, choosing to stay in the shower with the bee who stopped swarming my head sometime after the shampoo but before the conditioner. My thoughts returned to the newspaper days, and how, during those three or four years of writing for it, I had grown increasingly uncomfortable with knowing that people were actually reading what I wrote.

There lies the writer’s dilemma, common to many. At the time, I didn’t know other writers shared this problem. I thought it was unique to me, probably because of some emotional deficit born from my childhood, the same childhood that turned me into a writer. Now there’s a catch-22. It wasn’t that I didn’t want anyone to read my writing; it was that people I knew were reading my writing. And telling me. I remember when it first started. I wrote something heartfelt, sent it to the editor, and she called me. She was moved by my piece and wanted more. Like I do with many things, I jumped right in. My heart said yes, fearful thoughts to follow, but only after the deal was cinched.

Okay, just a little ole newspaper, a handful of readers, nothing ginormous. But there were my words, my name, right in front of my eyes. Strike one. I am not sure how many other writers share this next particular oddity, but once I publish a piece, I can hardly stand to see it again. I fear I will see things I wish I’d written differently, or not like it at all anymore. What if I start to hate it?

So seeing it was the first hurdle. Then came the realization that people were reading it. This was a local paper after all. People I knew were reading it, every single month. Strike two. And, worst of all, they sometimes commented. They would tell me they liked the column. (I assume readers who didn’t like it kept that to themselves). Someone even told me that she looked forward to reading it each month. Yikes! Strike three. I quit.

My husband couldn’t quite understand this. Neither did I. Why did you stop writing for that paper? he asked. Because people were reading it was my honest response. It’s ridiculous, I know, but writers are sometimes like this, I guess. I published a few things shortly after quitting the newspaper, but they were in magazines- ones that strangers read. I was so much more okay with this than with a local paper exposing my thoughts.

Fast forward twelve years.  I’ve grown thicker skin because middle age does that to you- you actually grasp that we are all going to die someday so what the hell? What is a life if not lived with courage? And some creativity? If we’re not at least trying to be authentic, then why bother? I’ve regretted things I’ve said. And I’ve regretted things I didn’t say even more. We have to try to use our best judgment, but maybe it’s all kind of a crap shoot, in a way. Recently, a few people have commented to me about my blog. A few years ago, when self-sabotage was only a comment away, this would have been treading on quit-worthy territory. Today, I am happy to have the feedback and happier still to know that someone other than myself might get something out of my compulsion to write.

Besides this blog, I am working on a memoir. Talk about having to overcome fear. It’s not just my new found courage that keeps me writing it though. It’s the realization that I would be forever disappointed if I remembered scenes of epic poignancy and then kept them to myself. It’s knowing that my truth is somehow connected to a universal truth and sharing it is a good thing. It’s unique and nothing special at the same time, hopefully in just the right proportions. This gives me courage to say the hard things or face the demons or write the truth. Or to speak it when necessary. And to shut up when that is the bravest or wisest thing to do. Could it be that simple? Oftentimes, writing and life just seems to be a journey of figuring out when to run naked from the shower and when to stay and face the sting.





4 thoughts on “Writer’s Dilemma

  1. Feeling discomfort at being read by people you know but not feeling the same discomfort at being read by strangers is very similar to an experience I had. Many years ago, I was asked by a former boss if I would teach a nightschool course at the local Institute of Technology. It was a rather daunting prospect – I’d never done anything like that before. However, after a little thought, I decided that I could handle it – I knew the subject matter well and felt that I could present it clearly. On the first night of the class, as the students gradually entered the classroom, I was well-prepared and not at all nervous. Then my former boss, the man who had suggested I do this, showed up at the door just to see that everything was ok. I became immediately nervous! As long as I was facing a roomful of strangers, I was fine. As soon as even one person I knew showed up, I became nervous. Since then, I have experienced this quite often – I would much rather present to a roomful of strangers than to people I know.

  2. I cringe whenever my Mom says she’s reading my stuff. Partly because I know it’s not her preferred genre, but also partly because *it’s my mom*. Whether she likes it or not, she’s my mom, and I am very uncomfortable with the idea that I’m exposing the stuff in my head to her, that I’m offering my thoughts to her. Especially the swearwords and the sex scenes and horrible, horrible things I sometimes do to my characters.

    This particular insecurity goes way, way back. I never wanted to practice musical instruments or singing at home because Mom would always offer me an encouraging word afterwards, and that somehow felt like a violation of my personal space. Others have always evoked a similar response from me, but much, much lesser.

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