Ever since I posted my first round story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, I’ve been a bit of a mess–anxious, queasy, stressed. Perhaps you find this reaction surprising–maybe even a little unbelievable–because I’ve always acted like sharing my work with you is no big deal. But, to be honest, it terrifies me.
Last week, when I hit the “publish” button on my blog to post Inevitable, I had a moment of pure panic. A million “what if” questions flew through my mind: What if people hate it? What if people laugh at me? What if this is the stupidest story I’ve ever written? What if I didn’t push myself hard enough? What if I offend someone by accident? What if. What if. What if…
It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m sharing my story with a friend, a beta reader, or a complete stranger, I’m always petrified I’ll be judged, ridiculed, and/or ripped apart. The minute I put a story on my blog, or I hand chapters of my manuscript over to a beta reader, I experience a sharp twinge of anxiety, and my heart does a pitter-patter–stutter–halt!–boom-boom-boom! dance.
You’d think this fear would go away after years of sharing my work with others, but it hasn’t. I always experience a sickening sensation, followed by a silent chant of, “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”
Part of my fear stems from the worry people will read my work and think I’m someone I’m not. Let’s face it, many of my stories are on the darker side: Tragic. Morbid. Whacked out! I’m so scared people will read them and think, “Wowza, this chick is messed up!” Or, “Poor thing, she must have a terrible life.” Or, “Yeesh, this writer scares me.”
And, who knows? Maybe people do think those things about me? Maybe people see me as this:
When, in reality, I’m like this:
The only thing I can do to manage this particular fear is to explain to people my writing process. I like to tell them, “When I write, I’m not there. I’m pushed into a cage and locked up while my characters hijack the story. They’re the ones writing it, not me.”
Hmm, maybe I am a little crazy–ha!
But it’s the truth. When I sit down to write, I check “Jenna” at the door and let my characters orchestrate the plot. They tell me how the story is “supposed to go”. I do my best not to interfere as the outsider.
For example, when I started writing my short story, Chasing Monsters, I planned on telling a story about a little boy who’d witnessed a murder in the forest. But when I arrived at the murder scene, my characters said, “Um, no. That’s not going to happen. This is!” And they yanked the plot out of my hands and twisted it into something completely different and unexpected…It was horrible and beyond terrifying, and I did not want to write it.
I think I almost threw up when I posted Chasing Monsters on my blog. If there was ever a story people were going to judge me for, it was that one. Thankfully, nobody did–at least not to my face.
Truthfully, I’ve never been outright slammed for any of my stories. Of course, that’s not to say I’ve never had negative reviews, or had my feelings hurt by less than tactful individuals. Just this past weekend, I had someone send me feedback for Inevitable. They point blank said, “I didn’t like it at all.”
Yeah, that one hurt. But it’s okay. One of the things I’ve learned from sharing my work is not everyone will be a fan. Even if I have pure gold on my hands, someone out there will think it stinks. The best thing I can do is move on and let it go.
…Easier said than done, right?
The bottom line is I will always be afraid of sharing my work. Even if I become a New York Times bestselling author, I’ll struggle with the knowledge there are people out there reading my work and judging me in one way or another. And there will always be critics and, well, insensitive meanies who will tell me, “I didn’t like it at all.”.
But you know what? I can’t let my fears stop me. Even if I have an anxiety attack every time I press the “publish” button on my blog, or sit and stare at my email until my beta readers return with their feedback about my manuscript, I need to be willing to share my work. I need to suck it up and take the terrifying plunge.
If I don’t, how else will I discover my strengths and weaknesses? How else will I become the best writer I can be? There’s only so much I can learn on my own. Without constructive criticism from a variety of sources (friends, family, strangers, bloggers, other writers, etc.) I’ll never reach the next level.
And, really, I need to get used to people reading my stories if I want to be a published author. That’s kind of the point of all of this, isn’t it?
So, how about you? Do you fear others reading your stories? If so, why?