I was probably in middle school (fifth and sixth grade, about 10 and 11 years old) when I started worrying about what other people thought of me. This was completely normal for that really weird era of what they call Growing Up. We were all just wandering around trying to impress each other all day every day. I have no idea why.
Unfortunately, those insecurities bled into my writing life. I wouldn’t write my first “novel” until I got to high school, but way back then I was preoccupied almost to the point of obsession with writing song lyrics and poetry. I was in the very early stages of learning how to tell complex stories from beginning to end, but I preferred to fill notebook after notebook with rhymed lines. Probably about wanting to grow up already, or something very “middle school.”
I rarely, if ever, showed anyone those notebooks. I may have let my two closest friends peek at them from time to time, but I was extremely self-conscious about potential critiques. At some point I wrote a poem for a class project that ended up winning some kind of small-town award, and all I cared about was that no one made me read it out loud to the entire school. I might have actually DIED.
You’re probably not at all surprised to learn I (mostly) got over this refusal to put myself, and my work, out there. I would not call myself a confident 20-something by any means. I don’t “have it all together” and don’t expect to ever achieve that goal, whatever it actually means. But a piece of my writing shows up in people’s news feeds and email inboxes every single day of the year at this point. I’m not hiding my words from anyone. Why bother?
As much as I hate to admit it, age and maturity are definitely factors in this evolution. The older you get (ehhh), in general, the less you care about what other people think, or the less you let their opinions about you define who you are.
I tell you this because there has been a significant progression in my process — from write and hide to show and tell and shout “I WROTE A THING” in all caps whenever I’m uncharacteristically proud of something I’ve recently published. (Self-promotion is fine, but not in excess. Don’t be that person who only posts on social media about their accomplishments. Be a human, not a robot.)
But this does not mean that every writer can at some point learn to publish without fear. Sure, you might absolutely get used to the idea of people reading and judging your work and learn to tolerate it … maybe even embrace it. But I wouldn’t pivot to the other extreme and say you’ll ALWAYS feel good about everything you put out there.
There are some days I dread the moment a new blog post goes live because I’m not sure how people might react to it. There are days I write a few pages of my book and boldly dislike every single one of them. Sometimes I still think about sending out queries to agents and my stomach does this weird flip-flop thing because OH MY GOD THESE PEOPLE GET PAID TO READ STUFF WHAT IF MINE’S TERRIBLE?
It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been writing or how much experience in the field I might have. Sometimes, I’m still nervous and afraid when I shove my work out into the world and hope people look at it. Some people aren’t nice. I’m a human being, and I don’t like feeling bad about myself. No one does.
So how do I continue to publish continuous work anyway, despite all the excuses my brain might come up with to try convincing me I shouldn’t? I just take a deep breath and hit publish. I’m serious. Sometimes I hold my breath, hit that button, and let it out slowly. Because once I’ve done that, it’s out of my hands. It’s not my thing to hold hostage anymore. It’s part of the world now. The world is entitled to do with it whatever it pleases.
That might mean people praise it. Or rip it apart. It might mean no one really looks at it at all, or I lose a bunch of followers because the internet is weird and sometimes one thing you put out there that isn’t offensive in any way, shape, or form just makes people not want to see any of your stuff anymore until the end of time, I guess?
Does this cycle of write-publish-write-publish-write ever stop being terrifying? Some days. Some days I’m so excited about something I’ve written that I completely forget there’s a good possibility some people won’t like it and I can’t wait to read the comments.
Other days I wish I could just keep it all to myself and never have to hear another insensitive criticism ever again.
It’s really up to you to decide if you want the possibility of judgment or ridicule or rejection to control whether or not you send something out into the world. I don’t think that’s a good reason not to publish something when doing so has become so easy in the past few decades compared to the centuries before. But I’m not here to tell you what to do. You can do whatever you want.
Just remember that there are always going to be parts of the writing life and the writing process you don’t like. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do the job.
Also, the more you do it, the more habitual it becomes. You might still worry from time to time, but it sort of just becomes your reality. You write things, you publish them, and people react (or don’t). Such is life. There will be positive experiences and negative ones. But there won’t be any at all if you sit back and do nothing.
Good luck with everything you’re publishing this week, this month, or this year. It’s a big scary world out there. But you’re braver than you think.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.