In order to be a successful writer, you have to share your work. As wonderful as it would be to write as much as you want, tuck it away in a notebook for no one to see, and collect a check, that just isn’t how it works.
Writing is a Vulnerable Act
As writers, there is a certain amount of ourselves that goes into each piece. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, there is a part of you in everything you write. Experiences you have gone through become experiences your character has, places you’ve been will become settings, ideas, and beliefs that you posses become plot points and influence character arcs if you write fiction.
If you’re like me, you write nonfiction, ( or both, I also write young adult books ) you give more than just a small hint or influence of yourself in your writing. Many of my pieces are deeply personal, detailing the exact experiences I have been through.
Often, I am nervous before I put a piece out into the world. It feels a lot like the first day of school, pushing my son towards the door gently and hoping he finds friends and acceptance. My writing feels a lot like my children, each one different and unique in their own way. My hopes for them all are the same, that they meet the people they need and help in any way they can. Each time I push publish I am filled with apprehension and doubt, but it is the hope that what I am writing will make a difference that keeps me hitting the button to publish every day.
Airing Our Dirty Laundry
When growing up in a religious family, there are a lot of rules. For me, most were imposed by my mother, not just the bible. There were things you just didn’t do and letting the neighbors know your business was one of them.
Throughout my childhood, I can remember my mom being very fearful that people outside of our family would know what was going on inside of our house. Not because it was bad, though I’m pretty sure the church we belonged to was a cult (and my mother and stepfather were oddly proud to belong to it), there wasn’t anything out of the normal going on in our house. Maybe it was the fighting, between my mom and my sister’s dad, or maybe it was how poor we were, whatever it was, whatever was going on, no one needed to know.
That’s a mantra that my mom still lives by to this day. The neighbors don’t need to know her business, at all, about anything, ever. It is a point she presses on my three younger sisters and me often. On our weekly phone calls, she implores us to keep our cards close to our chest and not to “shit where we eat”, and the constant reminders make me feel guilty every time I hear them.
If You’re Reading This: Don’t
My mom knows what I do for a living, well, sort of. Like most people in my life, she knows I’m a writer. I don’t mind sharing that I am a writer, but that doesn’t exactly mean that I want people I know in real life to read what I write, especially my mother.
Being a confessional writer means that I am telling everyone my business, the one thing my mother implores me not to do. Her judgment, as well as the judgment of others that I know in my real life, keeps me from writing certain articles.
A few days ago I wrote an article about sex.
I never published it, even though I think it’s good and some of my best writing. But I’m afraid to let anyone read it because of what they might think about me.
Could you imagine having that conversation with your religious mother about the most recent article you wrote about touching yourself? Because I can I can, and that conversation does not go well.
Yes, I know I am an adult and I know that she is my mother and she will love me and care for me no matter what, but that doesn’t make the look of shame on her face when she brings it up to be any easier to deal with.
It doesn’t even have to be just about her, though most of my hang-ups about writing about sex and other personal details have to mostly do with my mother. What if my son’s preschool teacher from last year clicks on the link? We are Facebook friends and I share all the links to my articles on my social media profiles. I could not share the link to the more graphic ones, but they wouldn’t be hard to find.
Can you imagine looking your son’s teacher in the eyes at school drop off and wondering if she read that article about how you prefer to be submissive? Or worse, have a conversation about it?
This is my biggest fear.
It all makes me feel an intense amount of anxiety, paranoia, and shame.
It All Comes Down to Pride
Eight months ago, I gave birth to the most charming troublemaker named Emilia. Having a daughter is very different from having a son. Aside from the obvious differences between my son and daughter, I don’t worry as much about how he will be affected by society when it comes to viewing his body and sexuality.
Being open about my sexuality, my body, and my feelings was something that my mother never taught me. We didn’t have conversations about how love should feel, how sex should feel, and how both of them shouldn’t feel. My sexual education came from people around and was riddled with misinformation and ultimately did damage to my self-esteem and mental health.
I don’t want that for Emilia.
My daughter deserves to be proud of herself, her feelings, her body, and her sexuality. She should be able to talk about all of these openly, with no shame or guilt. It is very important to me that I set a good example for her and let her know that she is safe and loved no matter how she chooses to express herself or who she chooses to love.
I could censor myself and my writing, giving into my biggest fear. In the end, that would make my mother proud, but I would ultimately be doing a disservice to myself and my daughter. From this day forward, I’m going to write about whatever I want, with no fear of judgment from my mother or anyone else, and with no motive beyond making my daughter and myself proud.
Ashley Shannon is a queer single mom of two kids, one with autism. She writes about relationships, mental health issues, being a single parent, and sexuality. She is currently looking for the perfect school bus to turn into a traveling tiny home and can be found on twitter @as_publishing.