The hardest part of writing, for me, is not the mechanics of writing or the discipline to keep going. It's not writer's block, which (ever since I figured out outlining, at least) has never been a problem for me. It's not coming up with the premise or revising or outlining or even querying. It's putting myself out there. I don't want to get all The Bachelor on you, but writing anything - even fiction - makes you vulnerable.
A writer puts herself (or his self) out there on so many levels.
First, there's the fact that no matter how fictional your story is, you did it. You and you alone wrote that scene, birthed that villain, made that character say or think that. It's a reflection of you and although you may not agree with all the things your characters say or do, their words and actions and thoughts came from your brain, you little hot mess.
There's also that little inner voice reminding you that grandma (or your mother/neighbor/PTA friend/pastor/husband) is going to read that. That sex scene, that snippet of dialogue ripped from a real life conversation, that horrible truth that may resonate too deeply, that observation that may hit a little too close to home.
As if all that weren't enough, you've put yourself out there and now, inevitably, there is the feedback. If you're talented and lucky enough to be published, there will be negative reviews, from well-meaning critics to brutal online trolls. And that's only if you're lucky enough to get published - and that only happens if you're fortunate enough to secure an agent after subjecting yourself to the querying process. By soliciting an agent, you are essentially saying, Look here, I think I've created something worthy of publication. I think it's good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough that at least a hundred thousand people, if not millions, will be interested in reading all ninety thousand words I've put down here. That takes balls. Or ovaries, in my case. (Side note, why don't we ever talk about someone having the ovaries to do something brave or crazy?)
When I first started writing fiction, it was hard for me to write without letting all those little voices take over the manuscript. Oh, that's too taboo or risqué or demented or wrong. Will so and so think this is about them? Is this going to offend? But then I realized a few things.
First of all, I was writing a thriller, damn it, and there's nothing thrilling about a story that doesn't make the reader think oh shit at least once or twice.
Second, you simply can't write anything decent that doesn't draw on your real life experiences. If you want your characters to resonate with readers, they have to talk and act in ways that are relatable and draw on your personal experiences. This isn't to say you can't make things up, but even the stuff of your imagination will be the product of your observations about real people and events. Yes, honey, my protagonist does have brown hair just like you, but that doesn't mean I think you're going to kill our babysitter, too.
And finally, anything I write is bound to offend someone. I'd bet you anything that sentence right there just did it for somebody.
I've grown out of a lot of these fears the more I write. Sorry Grandma/Mom/Pastor Ted, but real people do have sex. They also have beliefs and political opinions that don't match yours, and thoughts that aren't decent, and they do things they shouldn't. And thus, so do my characters.
That doesn't mean I don't still cringe a little when I'm called to lay it out there. Recently an agent advised me to start building my platform in the event I'm published. On it, I wrote back with a link to my resurrected blog. No, she wrote back. Instagram.
Instagram? But people I know will see it! They'll know I want to be a writer. I can just picture Laura Jenkins now, turning to her husband as she checks out my Instagram feed, having been tipped off by our mutual friend. Laura rolls her eyes at she turns to her husband Dave, holding up her phone. "Guess who's writing a novel?" she sneers. Dave snorts as Laura leaves a comment: Good for you, girl! Can't wait to read it!
The scene replays over and over in my head with different characters from my own life.
But then I get real. I realize that, if I really want to make it, I have to go for it. I've spent the last six years writing two novels in the spare time I don't have. I've put myself out there with beta readers and agents and editors. I've overhauled manuscripts I've thought were perfect and backspaced over scenes that I toiled over for weeks and filed away form rejections and swallowed some tough no's after getting my hopes up with agents who expressed interest. I think I can handle an Instagram account.
So if you're out there struggling with the same sort of thing, if you're scared to put your dreams out there - be it a novel or an album or a patent or your line of high-end crocheted dog socks - hear this: You can do it.
That's it. That's all you need to know.