By: Michelle Gunnin
As writers, we risk. We pour ourselves onto the page, and then put it out there for the world to see. In so doing, we make ourselves vulnerable to criticism and rejection. It takes courage to hit that submit button. It is not unlike the risk a musician or actor takes, only our stage is seemingly more private. As we write, we are alone to hash out exactly how we want to communicate our thoughts and feelings. However, that privacy goes up in smoke once we push the button. The world becomes our stage, and as mostly private people, that thought is horrifying. It is much like that nightmare of standing naked in front of a crowd of laughing people, which wakes us up in a cold sweat from time to time. It is easier and safer not to take the chance that we might fail or be ridiculed.
Risk is not limited to certain genres and, though memoirs are decidedly more exposing, every genre comes with chances taken. Our word choices, opinions, even which facts we include, all subject us to the possibility someone, somewhere will disagree. In the age of internet trolls and haters, it is daunting to be daring enough to hit the button. Many writers never do it. They sit back and read. They wish. They dream of someday.
I used to be one of those writers. It sounded like this in my head. ‘When I have more time, I will do more writing. If my schedule frees up, I will submit. When my kids are grown, I will write a book.’ The reality was, I didn’t want to chance it. It was scary. My writing had always been just for me. I wanted to share it, but I wasn’t confident enough to take the risk.
Then cancer happened, and I realized that I might not live till my kids were grown. All my excuses were hollow in my ears. I had a sudden urgency to share my heart with the world. The idea that I could die, without putting myself in writing, lit a fire in me. I started my blog, where I recently wrote this post titled Risking It, which inspired the one you are currently reading. I wrote a book called The Nature of God. I determined to share my voice because I suddenly recognized that I had important things to say. Not to teach anything specific necessarily, but just to acknowledge that I existed. In that dark season, I discerned that words were my legacy. They would live on long past whatever my lifespan turned out to be. (Ovarian and uterine cancers do not usually release their victims, but fortunately, I am now ten years cancer free.)
Once I took the initial leap, I found that taking a risk is actually not so bad. Every time I published a piece, I gained confidence, and that gave me the courage to do it again…and again…and again. I became a risk junky, and like a more subdued version of skydivers or bungee jumpers, the adrenaline rush became addictive, especially when I got a positive response to my words. People found them meaningful. They traveled the globe. It was amazing to watch. There were not near as many negative voices as I had imagined in my head. In the midst of this epiphany, I found that my writing ability got better. My voice clarified. My word choice was more specific. My rambling became more concise. Just as any passion gets better when you practice it, be it sports, instruments, or art, my craftsmanship increased with every risk I took. Not only that, but my legacy was down in black and white for my children to read and remember.
Make no mistake, in no way am I saying taking risk is an easy thing. It is not. It takes great bravery and courage. What I am saying, is that if you never risk putting your writing out there, you will never know. Here are some things to consider before you push the submit button.
- Why are you afraid? Does the idea of someone disagreeing with you scare you, or is it that you don’t think what you have to say is important? If we don’t believe in ourselves as writers, then our readers will not believe either. The importance of words is a conviction we carry to the generations who follow us. No one can say it in the same way that you can.
- Why do you think you are not good enough? How do you plan on getting better? Somehow we think that when we write a Pulitzer prize-winning piece, THEN we will be ready to put more out there. That is backward thinking. The more pieces you put out there, the more likely that one day you will write that masterpiece. It is the constant practice of writing that makes the difference in how good enough it becomes.
- Why do you think that no one cares about what you have to say? Do you think you are that unimportant? We really want to believe that what we write will resonate with the readers. When we submit a piece, and it is rejected, it apparently confirms that we are unimportant as people. We back away and slink into a corner to lick our wounds. In reality, it does not say we are unimportant at all; it says that we tried the wrong people. Keep looking for your audience, even as you improve your craft. The fit is as important as the writing. Think Dustin Hoffman as Superman. See my point? It is not personal.
- Why do you hesitate to share? Are you afraid of hurting someone’s feelings? When we have a strong opinion on something, but we know our readers may feel differently in an opposing direction, it is hard to push the button. Particularly in this ugly political climate, we are living in now. This one is tricky because you really do set yourself up as a target in all things political. Ask yourself some questions. Does what I have to say change anything? Could my words affect the way people think or feel? Do I want them to? Am I okay if my readers decide not to follow me because of this post? Could my words do some good in this situation or am I just blowing off steam? As writers, we need to be intentional in our actions and think through them before we hit submit.
- Why are you waiting? What is it that is holding you back? If our only reason for not putting our writing out there boils down to fear, then we need to evaluate what it is we are scared of. The anxiety of taking a risk never goes away. Every time I post I feel it. However, knowing that, has made it much easier to deal with it, because I tell myself that once I push the button the feeling will go away.
- Why do you say that you don’t know where to submit? Where have you looked? Many of us say that we don’t know where, but the reality is that we have never really looked for places. It is a simple thing to do some research in this computer age we live in. Be careful your “don’t know where” isn’t just an excuse, masquerading as lack of information. We live in the information age after all.
Two Drops of Ink is a great starting place. It is a safe environment that encourages new writers to step out. The veterans here, who remember the fear of their first submissions, are encouraging and want to walk alongside those who choose to submit… at their own risk.