There are two reasons we are afraid to write what we really think: fear and fear. Let me explain.
There is inner fear, in which we are so out of our comfort zone that we feel we’re way out in literary space, cut loose from the familiarity of the Acceptable Writing rocket ship waiting for us back on base. No one can see us; we’re all alone out there. We’re afraid no one will read our stuff.
Then there is outer fear, in which we are constantly nursing an emotional neck ache, looking over our shoulder and waiting for others to comment on our writing: did they like it? Was it “good”? Are we going to get a bunch of nasty emails excoriating us and our opinions? In other words, we’re afraid people will actually read our stuff, and won’t like it.
Both inner fear and outer fear can prevent us from being authentic in our writing.
“But what if no one reads it?”
Inner fear brings up a paradox: On the one hand, we’re supposed to write from the heart, write what feels right to us, be authentic. But on the other hand, don’t we have to put our readers first? And does that include always pleasing them?
It helps to have an picture of your ideal reader in your head as you write. This will help you tailor your prose and subject matter to the right audience. After all, there is no one book or article that will speak to or fulfill the needs of each and every person in the whole world. Everyone has a niche: teens, adults, men, women, religious, spiritual, scientific, left wing, right wing, offbeat – you name it.
But this doesn’t mean that you always have to please your readers. If your niche, say, is stay-at-home mothers, you’re allowed to take a stand and write about why watching daytime soap operas is a poor way to spend one’s time. Your audience will read it; some will agree and others won’t. But you will have touched on something that is germane to your niche, and that is the whole point of keeping your ideal reader in front of you.
If you write something so bland that there’s nothing to agree or disagree with, then what’s the point of writing at all? Why waste calories on a Quarter Pounder when down the street you can get a half-pound, grass-fed, hormone-free hamburger with all the works?
Write from your heart – even fiction – and they will read your stuff. Your readers don’t have to agree with you; that’s not your job. Your job is to deliver the best prose that you can. And all the better if it causes your audience to sit up, take notice, and think.
“But what if everyone reads it?”
We’ve all been there.
Who hasn’t received a scathing reaction to something we’ve said or written? My heart still races when I think of a couple of doozies I got.
For many of us, after being criticized our first thought is to backtrack, apologizing all over the place and going out of our way to honor the opinion of the other person – even sometimes going so far as to agree with them.
However, might I suggest an alternative to the people-pleasing and let’s-get-out-of-this-uncomfortable-situation-as-fast-as-possible approach?
Take a deep breath and…
First, remember this:
You don’t have to react immediately to criticism.
Once I got this into my head, my whole life changed.
If someone criticizes, disagrees with, or reacts angrily to something you’ve written, TAKE A DEEP BREATH and just nod or say “Mmm.” (This works equally well if the communication takes place in writing, but of course you wouldn’t write “Mmm.”)
Next, EVALUATE whether there is any merit in what the person is saying.
- Did you offend him or her maliciously, attacking personally, deliberately, and/or gratuitously? (My guess is no; you were probably merely stating your own opinion, to which you have a right.)
- Does this person have a life? Even if you don’t know them, the tone of their voice or email might give you a clue as to whether they’re really upset or just looking for something to do with their spare time. There are a lot of people in cyberspace (and elsewhere) these days who fit this profile.
- Is what they’re saying fact or opinion? If you got your facts wrong, or you truly attacked them personally, admit it, make amends by either apologizing or writing a retraction/emendation, AND MOVE ON. Don’t continue beating yourself up, because your critic has already forgotten about it. Remember: people love tripping others up, and it’s usually all about them and not about you.
- If the criticism is merely the opinion of the critic, then you’re home safe. They have a right to their opinion, AND SO DO YOU. This is so important. So many of us forget that we have just as much of a right to say what we think as others do. Their blood isn’t any redder than ours.
5 Ways Taking a Stand Will Benefit Your Writing
Infusing your writing with a personal touch, which sometimes will include taking a controversial stand, is one of the best ways to get people to sit up and take notice. Here are five reasons why:
- Your writing will be more convincing, inspiring and entertaining. People will sense the authenticity and sincerity of your words.
- People will want to read your stuff, whether or not they agree with it. If both Hillary and The Donald would agree with it, why bother?
- You will evoke those all-important emotions so essential to good writing and reader engagement. Whether you evoke laughter, sadness, agreement or anger, your prose will encourage others to continue the conversation. Not to belabor the point, but yes, this is equally true of both fiction and non-fiction.
- You will create your own unique voice. Honing your voice is not only about writing style. Write your truth, and you will transform yourself as well as your writing.
- It’s good for your personal growth. Being unafraid to state your opinion in writing will enable you to stand up for it in person. Being respectfully disagreed with will weaken your need to please everyone. You will develop the courage to continue in the face of nastiness, and compassion for those with petty complaints.
It’s scary to lay ourselves bare for the world to see and read – and maybe even talk about! Starting this blog was terrifying for me, and I’ve never been more out of my comfort zone. But who ever said being authentic was easy?
Has your writing ever been criticized or disagreed with? How did you handle it? What would you say to a new writer who is afraid of what others will think?
Let me know in the comments below.