Your questions on writing answered
On fear, criticism, first drafts and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you.
Thank you for your questions on the Ask Me Anything Tuesday Thread. I’ve categorised the questions into themes, and this is part one. First up, your questions on writing, and my answers. Your next Tuesday Thread will resume next week!
Q: When writing your books and articles, how do you overcome any self doubt or fears around your capability as a writer and how your work will be received?
Short answer: I don’t overcome it! I live alongside the fear. I am petrified during the process of each book and when it is released, it doesn’t really go away but I am better at dealing with it and welcoming it in now. (Something I learned reading Big Magic, the analogy of fear being in the backseat of the car, but not behind the wheel.) I don’t mean this to sound negative, it’s just that it doesn’t really get any easier. I find that with writing, each book is a new challenge, and just because you wrote that book, doesn’t mean you’ll find it easier writing this book. I also know that being afraid is a good thing when it comes to writing/creating, because it means you care, that your work has high stakes for you and therefore it matters. When authors I know message me saying “I’m scared” I reply saying: “yay, good! That means your book means something!”
Of course, I want my work to be well-received. Nothing beats a glowing five-star review from someone, making all those late nights and stressful moments feel worth it. But, even the World’s Best Writers like Zadie Smith or Margaret Atwood get shitty Amazon reviews, so the odds are that you (definitely) will too! It is part of it— part of exposing yourself on the page, part of being in the world. Some people won’t like it, some people won’t get it, some people are angry in general. That’s OK!! For me, it’s enough to know that the people I respect like it (my publisher, my book editor, the magazine editor who commissioned an article, my agent, a smart friend) and then: it’s off into the world. It may be loved, it may be ripped apart, who are you to know? But the worst thing would be if I didn’t like it. I’d rather get a bad review than change myself to fit into some bland box that garners meh reviews, or not do it at all because I was too scared. My fear is getting to the end of my life and feeling regret over not doing, or not trying, so in that regard, the fear is guiding me forwards.
Q: Who are the first people are you give your first drafts to have a look at (and after how many drafts?) When do you go with certain advice and how do you know not to?
I am really secretive and private with my first drafts. I lower my laptop lid when my husband walks past behind me, lol. But then, I do let people read it, but only people who writer Julia Cameron calls “believing mirrors”. Our first drafts are very precious and you don’t want to give it to anyone who might kill your vibes. Do not give it to anyone whose personal brand is all about being “harsh” or cynical, or who make jokes or teases you about your work. Unfortunately, many people are stuck in their own bullshit and they project it onto you. Try to avoid these people while you are creating. Julia describes these believing mirrors as “people who mirror us back to ourselves as powerful, strong, and in our most positive light.” People who believe in you. This doesn’t mean having a load of ‘yes’ people who say you’re amazing all the time (no one is amazing all the time), but it’s about having encouragement, support, love, and people who believe in you and your potential. Receiving praise for parts you did well increases your confidence, whereas having someone rip the not-so-great bits to shreds may mean you’ll never write again. We must handle each other’s work with care and give gentle feedback with first drafts. My believing mirrors are people in my management team, literary agent, friends I respect in the industry like Abigail Bergstrom, my family, a few close friends and my husband.
[Side-note: I have got this wrong in the past, and I have let the wrong people in. Don’t beat yourself up if this happens, brush yourself down and redirect yourself towards the warmth.]