I love telling people that I’m a writer. I am kind of a spoiled youngest child who loves attention, so I thoroughly enjoy the way people respond when I let them in on this part of myself. Usually, they are super impressed and spend the next thirty seconds awed to be in the presence of such greatness. Or, you know, they say that’s cool and move on. But undoubtedly, whenever I tell someone that I am a writer they ask me the most terrible question – “What do you write about?”
No no no no no no don’t ask me that! Why do you want to know what I write about? This question seems so benign on the outside, shouldn’t every writer – especially ones who love to talk about themselves – love being asked this question? No, we don’t, or at least I don’t. And the reason is the answer to this simple question is the essence of my biggest insecurity when it comes to writing. I am embarrassed by the things I write about.
In case you haven’t already looked at my bio and read about my current works in progress I will let you in on my deep dark secret. Ready? Deep breath. Big confession coming up you guys…I write werewolf novels.
Agh, I squirmed a little just typing that. Did you cringe, are you judging me? You’re still reading so that’s a good sign. Yes, my current work in progress is about characters who are werewolves. This is a topic that has not only been done before, but also has the stench of complete uncoolness wafting from it like a strong cheese. Maybe this wouldn’t be so shameful if I were in middle school, but as an adult, I hate hate hate sharing this factoid with my peers.
I will literally do almost anything to evade this question. Instead of telling people about my awesome characters or the crazy plot twists of my story I’ll tell them I write young adult fiction or low fantasy. I’ve even been as vague as saying I’m writing a coming of age story.
Newsflash, that is not going to sell my novel to these potential readers! But I do it anyways. I had this conversation with my coworker the other week, he knows I’m a writer, and knows I usually spend some portion of my lunch break working on things, so he asked me “what did you write about today?” Feeling like I dodged a bullet by working on character development instead of story material I told him I was “improving my characters.” But then, as he scooped a granola bar out of his lunch bag he asked me “So, what is your story actually about?” He already knew genre, target age group all that jazz and now he wanted to know content. And I totally wussed out! Instead of holding my head high and owning it telling him about Blaine, who grew up his whole life plagued by fears that he would become a werewolf like his father, that he would be moon cursed. And Jesse the free-spirited new girl in town whose dad is compelled to hunt werewolves and how their stories join together in an epic saga of awesomeness, I blushed and awkwardly fumbled my way through saying “well, I write about werewolves who are going through some stuff.”
But in my defense, the werewolf genre does not have a great reputation, so it makes sense that I would be a little shy about telling people that I write about this misunderstood topic. But, my story is not about hot guys running around in the woods with their shirts off. There’s real content, real depth and real meaning to it. Just because the topic of my story has been done wrong in the past doesn’t mean that my story can’t redeem the genre. I can even use that angle when I tell people about my story “You know how werewolf novels are so overdone and lame, well I’m trying to fix that.”
Werewolves are not the only topic that has a negative perception in the public eye: fantasy, mystery, romance and even nonfiction can all sound incredibly uncool depending on who you are pitching too. And that is why this insecurity about my topic is such a problem – because it doesn’t really matter what topic I am writing about – I am always a little embarrassed to share it with others. And that my friends is a huge problem!
It shouldn’t matter what I write, I should be able to write odes to watching paint dry and still be proud of my work. I think the root of this insecurity goes deeper than having people think I am uncool, I’m pretty sure everyone already knows I am a huge dork. The real reason this embarrassment is such a roadblock for me is because I fear that nobody will care about my writing.
This really shouldn’t matter. I do not write to be the next J.K. Rowling (though wouldn’t that be awesome!) I write because I love to do it. But, stories are meant to be shared. If I was the only person on the planet I wouldn’t need to write, because I would have all my stories in my head and could access them whenever I wanted. Without anyone to share my stories with they become less important, which makes it feel pretty important to be able to someday share my stories with the world. More than just sharing I want my stories to impact, entertain or move somebody outside of myself. I want my stories to make the world better.
I know that is a lofty goal, but I think that most writers feel that way about their work. And the irony of being embarrassed to talk about my story and my subject matter is that it is self-sabotaging. If I can’t stand behind my story, then who will? I am the best seller of my stories, and the only person who can bring them from my head into the world.
So, how do I work up the courage to do this? I’m still not entirely sure. I think that for the most part I just need to suck it up, be brave and not worry about what other people think. I did this successfully over the weekend, talking to my little cousins about my story. I told them about my awesome characters, and the horrible things I am going to put them through and you know what. They thought it was cool. They wanted to know everything, they were hopping up and down wondering when it would be published. They even wanted to help me write it! I am hoping that little bit of positive feedback will give me the courage to stand behind my story the next time I am asked the dreaded question “What do you write about?”
Do you have a secret writer’s shame, or an insecurity that throws off your writing groove? Tell me about it in the comments. Or tell me about your camp NaNoWriMo experience so far – word count sound off! Finish strong and as always…
Stay amazing my friends.