Monday, March 15, 2010

My best work under wraps?

Last week, I finished a new short story that I'm tentatively calling "Catfish Mother." This was something I started back in 2008, worked on through a good part of 2009, and was finally able to finish this year after getting some great advice from F. P. Adriani. (This has something to do with daydreaming that I should also post about sometime soon.) But, the important thing is that I'm very happy with this story. It may be the best short story I've written--at least in my opinion.

And, a strange thing is happening.

I'm realizing that I'm scared to share this story with others.

This has something to do with fear. I fear that everyone will say they don't like my story. And, it's not the direct criticism that I'm afraid of, but I'm afraid of losing my own vision after hearing too many outside opinions.

I'm a pretty insecure writer. I question almost everything I produce, and it hasn't helped that some of my favorite stories are often ones that other people don't like. (Vice versa, the stories that people tend to like are often ones that I'm not as emotionally attached to and haven't put as much effort into.) I think right now I'm actually at a point where I'm producing work that I really enjoy myself. And maybe that grasp on what I like doesn't feel secure enough for me to test it against other people's judgments. I worry that others will persuade me to stop liking what I actually like.

Has this happened to anybody? Is it real? Is it a good idea for me to keep this personal success to myself, or should I test my own writing by exposing it to the world?

Note: Check out Genie of the Shell's comment too! (Added later: There are several great comments here. Check them all out!)


  1. i have also experienced the phenomenom of "i think this story i wrote is OK, but EVERYONE ELSE LOVES IT".
    It's weird when that happens.
    As for whether you should expose yourself, i guess that's a personal decision. I've never had an issue with throwing my work around, whether it's good or not, since i have a pretty thick skin.
    What's the worst that can happen?
    And what's the best thing that could happen that you might miss out on if you keep it to yourself

  2. Share it! We've all heard the cliche about the brilliant writer with the novel in the drawer.

    I have found that depending on the work, sometimes it is easier to share with people I trust (Slushbusters) who I can ask to please be gentle in their critique. Other times, the anonymity of sending work out to be critiqued online has helped me feel better about it. If my feelings are hurt, I haven't had to deal with the person directly. Remind yourself that opinions are subjective.

    Not everyone is going to like your work, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't ever share it.

  3. The first thing to remember: no matter what, everyone won't like it and that's okay. You don't like every short story you've read, right? Move beyond thinking about that.

    And don't worry, you're not alone with your insecurity as a writer, we all go through it. :)

  4. I used to feel this way a lot of the time. Usually my feelings about a piece of writing sort of firm up after I've let it sit for awhile, maybe after a couple revisions.

    Sometimes it can be damaging to let others read something too soon, when it's too new and fresh and vulnerable to confusion by others' opinions--and the temptation to change too much, too soon, without getting a better handle on how I know the story should be.

    But I do think you should always share good stuff, when you're ready.

    I think of it like my vegetable gardening. I start the seeds indoors, out of direct light. They gradually receive more light and then get "hardened off" by going outside during the daytime. Then they're ready to plant in the garden. If I expose the seedlings too soon, they get traumatized and sometimes die. If I don't expose them soon enough or at all, they wither and die without becoming anything.

    Or, sometimes I just like to eat the sprouts. :)

  5. I'm a pretty insecure writer.

    Are there any of us who aren't? It seems de rigeur. The worst part is when your family and friends confirm your insecurities. My mom told me she hated "Bark," and my wife gets this nervous look in her eyes whenever I ask her to proof a new piece. Maybe I should change my chosen genre ...

  6. For me, the more I am proud of the work, the bigger the fear. Enjoy your personal success for a while, and then I hope you will choose to share it.

  7. Falen, It is definitely weird. It just reminds me that my own inner emotion doesn't always correlate with external emotion. I've never had an issue of sharing my work until I got to this last story either. It's strange how protective I'm feeling.

    Michelle, to be fair, I did share this short story with one person. Lady Glam. I think I'm willing to share it, but maybe I'm not looking for feedback at the moment.

    Crimey, Yes, I have actually grown to appreciate differences of opinion. I often find that there are people who don't like my work for whatever reason, but I'm okay with that. I think it depends on why they don't like it.

    Genie, Yes, that's the feeling I have exactly! I'm going to mention your comment on the post. Thanks! This is the first time I've felt this satisfied...and this self-indulgent. And, I think I just need to sit with it awhile to discover my own feelings about the work before I hear from others.

    Loren, In your case I do think it's the genre choice! BUt, also for your genre choice, it's probably great news when some people don't want to read it!

    Yat-Yee, I'm glad I'm not alone in this! I think you're right. I'm not used to being this scared, and maybe that means I'm being more personal and finally have more invested in my writing!

  8. I get it! Boy do I ever. I have no advice, but I do get it!

  9. She Writes, No advice necessary! It does feel good to have people understand. :)

  10. Davin: I think that as the work gets closer to what we (the writers) really hold true and dear as our personal, essential way of experiencing the world, the more we like it (of course) and the more hesitant we are about sharing it. I really think that, for example, "Cocke & Bull" is pretty bare; there's not a lot of room for me to hide my opinions. That makes it difficult to show because, while I think it's the best thing I've ever written, I am simply more exposed there than in anything else I've done. I assume (and rather hope) that I'll feel the same way--or even more this way--with my current book when it's finished.

    So do you share it? Well, you know you want to. Bask in the rosy glow of having made something you love, then set it aside for a while, then revise it, then send it out into the world when you have some emotional remove from the piece.

  11. For me, part of the reason I write is to communicate with others, to find the people who understand me when the people in my everyday life don't. I feel that writing should be shared. Maybe you just haven't found the right audience for your story.

  12. Davin, I think this is something most writers experience, but I agree with Genie that it can be damaging to let others read things too soon after you've written them. I found this with my synopsis. I had to have it finished by a specific time, so I had to keep showing my fresh revisions to the people helping me, and I felt so vulnerable that I was willing to make all and ANY changes suggested. And I did. Thank goodness another friend of mine (not a writer) pointed out the things I took out that were actually working for my voice.

    It turns out that I was taking out some of the best stuff in the synopsis because I was too willing to change things. The work was too new to me, and I was not trusting myself enough.

    Now, I know you might have the opposite problem with liking the work too much and not willing to make any changes at all. I think it can be black and white, and so holding off on sharing your work is probably a good idea until you know where it really stands. That's just my opinion - not telling you what to do. :)

    I loved this new story of yours, and I think it is some of the finest work I've read by you. I'm always so eager to share my work with others, so I know how you feel. At the same time, I usually keep only a handful of readers at my side now with whom I share my really new stuff.

    I can't work inside a complete vacuum.

  13. Scott, It feels almost idiotic of me to realize this now, after writing for almost ten years, but I think this is the first piece I've been so emotionally invested in. It's very strange. I have felt like I've put in a lot of emotion in the subject matter of my work before, but I haven't trusted myself so much in the craft side of things, choosing to follow rules instead of creating my own. Now, I feel like I've done that, and it's quite satisfying! I'm setting my work aside for now, which is also something I haven't done for a short story in awhile. But, I agree that this is probably the proper emotional state we should be in with our writing!

    Sandra, Honestly, I don't know if I've found my audience yet. I won't know that until I share it. It's quite possible that people will actually like it. :)

    Michelle, this is what I've been feeling. I will share the story eventually because I can't write in a vacuum either. But, I also don't want to lose this rare feeling I have of actually trusting myself. Maybe if I create more stories like this, investigate it more, things will feel more secure.

  14. Davin: I think that for people like us who are clever with words, it becomes increasingly easy to hide behind our cleverness and it becomes a real effort to break through that. Almost as if our getting better at writing starts interfering with why we want to write in the first place, and it's hard to push all the technique to the side and return to the emotions behind all the art. And then, you know, we can no longer point to failures in craft for why people might not like our writing; it becomes judgment of ourselves instead. Who's going to be comfortable with that? Still, it's what we do when we are Bold, Brave and Mighty Writers.

  15. Davin, I'm sure your story won't be bad. Your writing always has a minimum good quality level. But even on the off chance it's not that what? This is your first time trying something new. Give yourself more time, more tries!

    Doubt can be a good thing when it's used during the proper writing time: during revisions. Before then, doubt is usually bad. After then, doubt is usually neither; it's just understandable when thinking of releasing work out there. That doubt is the writer's form of stage fright. Don't ever let stage fright prevent you from performing.

    Actually, I think doubt during revisions is important; the better writers tend to doubt quite a bit then, at least that's what they report.

    "(Vice versa, the stories that people tend to like are often ones that I'm not as emotionally attached to and haven't put as much effort into.)"

    --Most writers report this. But I should point out that the ones you put more effort into--it's possible you're overwriting. I've brought this up with you before, not as a criticism, just to help you get where you want. Remember what I always say about polishing too much. I've had this problem in the past, as I've described to you.

    But maybe you mean you did polish those better-received works as usual, just that they're not as developed because of their premises?

    Whatever the case, keep going, keep writing, keep releasing when you're ready. Don't let others (including me ever) persuade you from what you want to do. Set the goal and just get there no matter what.

  16. One more thing: I wrote nearly all my works only after daydreaming and/or nightdreaming. Only three works I can think of right now, Trapped and two shorts--these weren't written that way. Actually, I'm so used to writing the post-dreaming way, Trapped probably came out similar in style anyway. But that one I did right at the computer, shortly after I'd thought up the idea.

    Writing this way doesn't necessarily equal emotional writing will be produced; I think you're experiencing that because you want that. I've heard a few writers claim they write only after in-their-head writing a lot, and, to my eyes, their works came out clinical.

    Typically my work is very emotional; writing it is very difficult for me, very draining. I'm crying during, laughing, and so on. I just must emphasize again to keep going. If it hurts, you're probably doing something right. Unfortunately. It kinda must hurt.

  17. I understand the fear of molding yourself to others' expectations. I made the rookie mistake of posting the intro to my short story on my blog to get some initial feedback. Someone commented, "Oh, I can tell your character is really going to learn to love her mother and grow from this experience." I then found myself writing in that direction. Rereading it, I realized that that was NOT what my story was about at all, so I deleted three pages and went back to work on the real story.

    I think no matter what anyone has to say, if you're a good writer, you'll still come back to your truth, and it will show in your work.

  18. Oy...I keep flubbing posts today!

    When I said, "Writing this way doesn't necessarily equal emotional writing will be produced," I meant writing in the post-dreaming way doesn't necessarily equal....

  19. Shelli: Almost all feedback is misguided, mistaken, or otherwise useless. I post excerpts of works-in-progress on my blog, but I never ever take anyone's advice about it. Because it is almost always bad advice.

  20. Davin,

    Who says every work has to be sent out to be critiqued by others? If you set it aside for a while and come back to it and are still happy with it, why not allow yourself the egotism of sending it out to be experienced, not to be critiqued? If you don't give people express permission to plant seeds of doubt in your vision, it's less likely they will, no?

    Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, and that's why I'm ending every sentence with a question mark.

    And Loren, I loved Bark. Very well done. I just finished reading the Genre Wars anthology, and there were so many great stories. I was thoroughly impressed.

  21. Scott: I admire that about you - how you don't seem desperate for feedback and advice. It's one reason I've stopped sharing my work with more than a few people. I think possibly the largest step a writer can take is relying on their own perceptions and skills.

    Jabez: I'm so glad you enjoyed Genre Wars! It's a lot of fun, I think. I'll be re-reading it this week as I try to relax and write more while house sitting for my parents. :)

  22. "Who says every work has to be sent out to be critiqued by others?"

    --I never do this. I never have. I don't understand fiction writers putting their works through the critique mill. But saying that is usually considered heresy. And some writers need more outside input to finish works. I wish they didn't, but they do. The more they write, maybe the less outside input they'll need. But they'll never write much if they don't first get the outside input, which pushes them to actually finish works.

    I think outside eyes are good for copy editing fiction, picking up on typos and the like, but that's about it.

    "If you set it aside for a while and come back to it and are still happy with it, why not allow yourself the egotism of sending it out to be experienced, not to be critiqued?"

    --I don't think that's egotism; I think that's keeping a writer's single vision intact, pure, uncorrupted by any outside ones. That probably leads to a more "perfect" execution of the writer's intentions.

    But I'm not sure Davin meant he'd be sending this work out widely for critiquing (?). Actually, I hope he won't! But, of course, that's completely up to him.

  23. Anytime we put ourselves out there, it's scary. It doesn’t really get easier with time even if we take criticism great there that change at least someone with “just hate it” but hopefully someone will “just love it” too.

  24. I think we get so much of our work critiqued that we start to assume there will be negative comments. There's always a multitude of ways you could have attacked any sentence and there's always some people that think you should have done it differently. When you feel a peace with your story, then it's time to stop. Once you publish (even online) - let go. It's done. It's out there. Work on the next piece and no matter how great your story is, you'll grow with each piece you put out there. Nerves are normal - you just need good distractions :-)
    Plus pat yourself on the back for FINISHING - that's the hardest part!

  25. You know Davin, I have work that in comparison to my other pieces just seems to shine. One novel in particular and I don't query it. I have, and it's garnered attention but when that attention fizzled I let it sit for over ten years. Once again I dusted it off and sent a limited number of queries, but the consensus was it was not a hot topic. I still believe in this book although I'm not doing anything with it at the moment. (It is in the ABNA and has passed round one. Last year it was kicked out after two.) I guess I'm OK letting it wander on my hard drive a little bit longer.

  26. F. P. Thanks a lot for all of your supportive comments! Through your recent posts, you've really revived my love of writing again, and I'm grateful. You've somehow taught me to be more in touch with myself.

    Shelli, some excellent points. I'm not sure if it's a matter of being a good writer, but perhaps it's a matter of being a writer who can trust herself or himself.

    Jabez, I think you are absolutely right. Thanks a lot for saying this. I think that is the point I'm at right now. :)

    F. P. You're right, I didn't necessarily mean sending it out for wide criticism. I haven't felt like I've needed much of that lately as I can usually predict what people will say, so it's more a matter of me choosing to care about that or not.

    Southpaw, I do think comments on stories often tend to balance out.

    Charmaine, excellent advice, thank you! I am feeling very happy to have finished this story, especially since it took so long for me to see it clearly!

    T. Anne, yes! I'm feeling that too. I'm content with holding it for a moment, however long that moment is. It's almost like a secret romance or something. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from it, and I understand what you've been through. Thanks for the comment!

  27. Congratulations on having written a new kind of story that you love! That's amazing!

    What's really important about this moment in your life is that you've apparently broken through to a style and vision you haven't been able to get down in words before.

    Don't worry about eyeballs. You can ask for eyeballs anytime. They'll always be there for you.

    Right now, stay focused on your craft, on what you've just learned about creating fiction, and get busy writing more stuff like "The Catfish Mother."

  28. I've just started reading "The Courage to Write," by Ralph Keyes. He addresses the very issue you raise here. (Oddly enough, I bought the book close to a year ago and am just now reading it; it seems I had a fear of reading about the fears associated with writing. Go figure...)

    I think when we have so much of ourselves invested in what we've written, a rejection of our work feels like a rejection of who we are. I got away from writing for publication for over a decade because of it. When I finally did submit something for publication in a local paper, it was used verbatim (with several photos I'd provided as well), but I wasn't paid for it, so the enjoyment of seeing my article in print was marred by the way I was treated. (Rookie mistake - don't submit the article itself, even to a paper you used to work for, without discussing payment.)

    Advice? I don't have any that hasn't already been given. Recommendation? Check out "The Courage to Write," if you haven't already. If nothing else, it's reassuring to know we're all in this boat together.


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