Fear of self-exposure and fear of rejection go hand in hand. In exposing our innermost thoughts and feelings through our writing, we are risking criticism, ridicule, and rejection.
Is fear of exposing your true self holding you back from writing your message or your story? It’s not an uncommon problem. When we write, we pour ourselves into the work. We leave some, or a lot, of ourselves on the page for all the world to see. This can be intimidating and overwhelming. When we think about who might read our work–our parents, our children, our colleagues etc., and what they might think of the work, or us, after reading it can sometimes prevent us from writing what we are called to write. Here are some things to keep in mind when you fear self-exposure.
1. You have control over what you reveal.
If you are writing a memoir or any other piece of non-fiction that is personal, it is important to know you have complete control over what you reveal. That said, be aware that what you are afraid to write about may resonate with someone else. If it is your aim to help others through your work, in exposing your experiences, good and bad, you may reach someone who is going through or may have experienced the same thing. You can be of service to that person. You can connect with that person in a profound way. Isn’t that what sharing your work is all about?
In fiction, we can “hide behind the curtain” so to speak. We can put ourselves, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences into the development of a character. We can also recreate experiences we’ve had, and unless we divulge it, the reader will never know if it was our experience or not. Still, if the emotions or experiences are particularly painful, it can often feel as if we are exposing a part of ourselves we don’t want people to see.
In writing my historical mysteries I often use people from my life to portray a character. Many of my antagonists have been crafted from people whom I didn’t like, who have done me or my loved ones harm, or who are just negative, not very nice people. I used to fear that if my work got published that person would recognize themselves and get their feelings hurt. I expressed this fear to a critique group once, and someone said, “they don’t see themselves the way you see them. They would never recognize themselves in the character.” That statement made complete sense to me. It also made me realize the people I used to create my antagonists were not “bad” people, they just exhibit bad behavior because of past wounds or their own negative experiences.
2. You are human and others will relate to what you expose.
We are often not alone in our embarrassments, our bad behavior, our negative thoughts and feelings. When we expose ourselves, either outright or through our characters, we are sharing our human nature. That is how our readers will connect with us. Also, it is important to remember, it’s not about you. When a reader picks up a book, they are looking for an experience for themselves, one they can relate to—the good, the bad and the ugly. You are simply providing the mirror of their own human experiences.
3. You won’t please everyone.
Will someone hate your work? Probably. Will someone love your work? Probably. This is the area where you have NO control. Just like you cannot control what people think of you, you cannot control what they think of your work. Writers and many other creative people often share the trait of wanting to be liked by everyone. Writers and artists are driven to do what they do, and they want people to like and accept what they do. This is something we cannot control, so we shouldn’t try. Do your best, put your words on the page, be proud of what you do. Don’t let the one or two naysayers crush your dream. Sometimes people love to find fault. Remember, this isn’t about you, it’s about them.
4. Look at the negative things people say about your work with objectivity.
Try to view the criticism, and your work, as an observer. Take yourself out of the equation for a few minutes. Ask yourself, is this constructive or destructive criticism? If it is constructive, and you feel your work will improve by listening to the criticism, brush yourself off and learn from the experience. You have control of what you do with this information. If the criticism is destructive and makes you feel ashamed, put down, or threatens to make you quit writing, put it out of your mind. Forget about it and move on. If you can’t do this, distance yourself from the work and the criticism for two weeks. Go back to it and see if you feel any different.
Discerning between harsh, constructive criticism and destructive criticism can be difficult, because neither one feels very good. We all get destructive criticism from time to time. This goes back to tip number 3. Some people live to find fault. Consider the source and then move on.
5. Celebrate the positive things people say about your work.
Take in the positive. Pick the positive flowers of what people say about your work, bundle it all up in a bouquet and water it often! Write those positive affirmations down in a journal, or better yet, write them on a sticky note and place it on your computer, or your bathroom mirror. Keep your rejection letters and highlight the positive remarks. Sometimes when we hear three wonderful comments about our work, and one terrible comment, we focus on the terrible one. Don’t let this play into your fear of self-exposure.
One of the best pieces of advice I have received about fear of self-exposure is to write your book, your essay, your blog post, etc. as if no one will read it. That is called writing your first draft. Then go back and decide what you feel most comfortable revealing, and what you feel the least comfortable revealing, and go from there. Good writing is re-writing. You have the power and control to share what you want.