As a writer, putting your work out there is difficult. It’s probably the number one reason writers don’t publish: they are afraid of people seeing their work. And not only seeing their work, but judging it. I’m editing Summer Secrets right now. My editor (I feel like such a professional writer when I say that!) sent me back my novellas, and over the past week, I’ve slowly been putting in the revisions she suggested and fixing the mistakes she found.
You would think that I would be ecstatic that my novellas are so much closer to publication, and don’t get me wrong, I am. But you know how I really feel when I go through all her comments and suggestions? Shame. Embarrassment. Sadness. Fear.
The definition of shame from Merriam-Webster is:
When I go through my editor’s comments (and let me be clear, these are all my feelings, not caused by my editor. My editor is a professional, in that she is kind, supportive, and in no way hurtful or disrespectful in regards to me and my work) I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed I made the mistakes I made. I’m a writer, aren’t I? I can’t see for myself I used the same word five times in two sentences? I can’t see for myself my two main characters have names that are similar and therefore yes, a reader may mix them up, and why couldn’t I choose different names, for crying out loud? In the definition above, 1a mentions shortcomings. Uh. Yeah. Nothing makes you feel like you are less than a writer than when all your mistakes are highlighted and accentuated with a comment. Definition 3a mentions regret. Yep. I have a ton of regret in that, why didn’t I find all these mistakes before I passed on my work to someone?
Embarrassment goes hand in hand with shame. I’m embarrassed I sent her my work with so much wrong with it. I’m embarrassed I didn’t try harder. Never mind how many times I read through them, never mind that I used Grammarly, then read them again. Never mind I spent money on printing them out to edit a paper copy. I didn’t try hard enough to make them mistake-free. That’s my inner critic talking, my irrational, unrealistic inner critic. Because any writer knows how impossible it is to catch all your own mistakes.
But it’s how I feel when my eyes slide away from a highlighted paragraph and the comments telling me what’s wrong with it and possible ways to fix it. My cheeks heat up, I have to swallow hard, and I have to force myself to just get on with it.
Sadness is probably the weakest feeling I have when I edit, but it’s still there. I get sad that my editor had to work so hard, I get sad when I feel like I could have tried harder. I get sad when I think there are better writers out there than me. Sadness waltzes with self-doubt in my heart when I see how many comments she made in my document. But you know what else I get sad about? Thinking about not writing anymore. That makes me sad, too.
When I searched “fear in writing” I found this lovely drawing on Lynette Noni’s blog post. I have a lot of fears about my writing, and yes, they come out when I’m editing. I fear I’m not a good writer. I fear I’ll never sell any books. I fear I’ll never be able to make a career out of my writing. After all, I can’t be a good writer if my editor finds all these things wrong with my book, right? And I want to be a good writer so I can sell books, so people can say, “Wow, that was probably one of the most emotional, heart-wrenching books I have ever read.” We all want to be writers who touch someone in some way with our work.
But What Else . . .
But you know what else I feel when I edit? I feel joy. I feel happy when my editor says she enjoyed a setting description or how I nailed how a character feels with show and not tell. I get excited when she tells me she loved an intimate moment between two characters, and a “More please!” in the comment section. I get excited when she congratulates me on proper grammar.
I’ll feel pride when I hold my published books in my hands, when my friends, family, and co-workers congratulate me on being tenacious, of having a dream and working toward it.
The act of writing and publishing is no doubt an emotional roller coaster ride. There are ups and downs, you’re thrown sideways and completely head over heels. But the trick, and oh my, is it a trick, is to keep fighting. To not let those negative feelings overwhelm you, to let them win. Surround yourself with friends who know what you’re going through, who will support you, and not let you give up.
If I have any advice from going through the editing process, it’s to keep your mind open and learn. Learn from what your editor is telling you. S/he’s on your side. Your editor wants to you to put out your best work, and that undoubtedly is your goal too, which is why you hired one. Don’t take their advice and suggestions as hurtful criticism, (unless it is, then you need a new editor) take their feedback and turn it into a positive learning moment. I’ve learned a lot going through my editor’s feedback.
I took a break from editing to quickly write up this post. I’d come to a paragraph where her advice was hard to swallow. I see it, I understand it, I agree with it, but there again, those feelings come up. Why didn’t I see this? Why did I send my work to her this way? What is so wrong with me I couldn’t fix this on my own?
Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with you, either. We’re all human, and doing the best we can.
For more articles about fear in writing, look here: