I'm sure we've all had to 'step outside our comfort zones' at some point in our lives. Maybe it was that first time you had to speak in front of a group of people, or maybe it was left to you to share some bad news with a friend. Whatever the scenario, we've all been there. This month we're discussing this topic, especially as it relates to our lives as writers.
I had to step outside my comfort zone many times during my adventure toward publication. It started as far back as when I finished my first manuscript. I had laboured over that first story for years, (literally) and finally came to the point where I had to let somebody read it. It seems silly now, but I remember being so apprehensive. Of course, my goal was publication, yet I really wasn't sure I was ready to let anyone read what I had written! Writing is so PERSONAL. Handing over one's baby for the first time can be a really scary experience.
The next big 'discomfort' was receiving my first rejections. The rejection 'form letters' filtered in and I was soon to realize that this 'becoming an author thing' was not going to be as easy as I had first imagined. Then I got my first real critique. I was shocked, hurt, and even angry - until the truth of what was being said sank in. Suddenly, what they were saying made so much sense. My stylistic errors were suddenly glaringly obvious. I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it myself. Since then, I've learned to value every piece of criticism I receive. They are actually gifts that sharpen the craft and makes one a better writer in the end.
Looking back, these were easy 'discomforts' to overcome. Much more difficult is all the self promotion that seems to be part and parcel of being an author. I'm okay when others give me genuine praise, but 'blowing my own horn' is unnerving. It's something that takes time, practice, and a healthy dose of humility.
I'm not normally a person who likes a lot of attention - a bit of a paradox for someone involved in the theatre. (Perhaps the difference is that when acting, you aren't trying to be yourself. You're pretending to be someone else.) As an author, however, I'm baring my soul to the world, bracing for the criticism that is bound to come. This is the real me, even if I'm writing fiction. Hopefully, there will be a bit of positive feedback as well, but the fear of the negative is often worse than the real thing itself. There is a sense that in the midst of all the self-hype, someone will notice that I'm actually a fraud.
This kind of negative self-talk is at the root of many of our insecurities as authors. I like how Jeff Goins in his Writers' Manifesto, encourages us to step out of that realm:
“Writers don’t write to get published. They write for another reason. This is the first and only lesson every writer must learn. Writers don’t write for recognition. They don’t do it for fame, accolades or notoriety. They do it because they cannot NOT write. By their gifts and under the authority of a higher calling, they are compelled to create. To wonder. To dream. To express...
We must put these ideas of fame and reward to death. They have no place in the creative process. The true writer simply shows up. Ready to do the work - whether the work is successful or acknowledged or important. And they do this everyday. Even without applause.
Of course there is a great irony to all of this... fasting from acclaim liberates us... Here is the paradox: as we care less about our audience’s affections more people will be affected.”
- Jeff Goins, The Writers Manifesto
A little bit of discomfort actually helps us to grow. I'll end with some encouraging words from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase:
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Galatians 6: 4 – 5 (Message)