A friend of mine was really pleased with herself the last time I saw her because, after a lifetime of writing, she had finally stepped into that space and owned it. She had told an events organiser, ‘I’m a local poet.’
It reminded me of another friend who had written several novels which absolutely no-one else knew about. She had only told me because she wanted my advice about how to find a publisher.
Coming out as a writer doesn’t sound as if it should be hard, but I think for many writers it can be. We may have to do it bit-by-bit, our family and close friends first, before going public enough to maybe join a writing group or sign up for some courses. Having confessed we’ve been writing, there’s another coming-out to do if we decide to try and be published.
Since I had wanted to be an author from a very early age, my family always knew, and I actually foisted my teenage efforts on school friends for a penny a chapter. So the fact that I wrote was never something I felt shy about confessing, and when the time came for me to try and earn a living from it, I was happy for everyone to know.
I reckoned that otherwise they’d just have thought I was a slacker anyway, sitting around at home when all my children were in school or playschool. On the whole, it seemed better to risk looking like someone with unrealistic expectations, wasting a lot of time and effort which was doomed to failure, than someone who wasn’t making any effort at all.
It came as a complete shock to me, therefore, when my first books came out, to find that I suddenly felt exposed. It wasn’t only my family and friends who knew any more – now everyone would know, and what’s more, they could read what I’d written.
I couldn’t understand at all why I was having such a problem – I mean, wasn’t that the point of being an author, to have people read what you’d written? So when I found myself on a psychodrama day with a group of counsellors, I told them I was totally up for exploring the reasons why.
In psychodrama, I went straight into a cave with all my writing and flatly refused to come out!
It turned out that the essence of my anxiety was about having things out there that I’d written, which I might find embarrassing further down the line. This did happen, a decade later, when I was revising my adults’ book on bullying for a new edition. I had completely changed my mind on the subject of forgiveness, and I realised that there might be any number of earlier opinions in others of my books that I’d long ago left behind in my life.
I was reassured to read, in John Fowles’ preface to a new edition of his first book, ‘The Magus,’ how he had wrestled with just this difficulty. Much of what was in the book, he no longer felt or even liked very much. He said he considered doing a total rewrite, because he felt embarrassed about what he now could see were the book’s shortcomings.
But in the end, he decided to leave the text just as it was, saying
All artists have to range the full extent of their own lives freely. The rest of the world can censor or bury their private past. We cannot, and so have to remain partly green till the day we die… callow green in the hope of becoming fertile green.
A lot of the books I enjoy reading are essays, memoirs and opinion pieces, and I like writing that kind of book too. Perhaps that’s why this was my particular stumbling block, when it came to coming out as a writer.
An enemy of self-reliance is consistency – we feel we can’t contradict our former ideas and utterances – but that’s just conforming to other people’s idea of who we are based on historical evidence. We think we may be misunderstood – but so what? We need to live and grow in the present, not be tied down by the past. Ralph Waldo Emerson
The book I’ve just written about dreams is full of my own ideas, experiences and opinions, and now I’m writing this blog… I guess you could say that I’m over it now!
If you’re a writer, did you find it hard to tell people about your writing, or writing ambitions? Did you have a particular block when it came to going public?