Why My Writing Success Scared Me
When self-sabotage is a comfortable discomfort.
I wrote an article about an emotionally triggering event. It went viral.
I should have been ecstatic — over the moon, really. Instead, I was left with mixed feelings.
The earnings I made from that article paid for my rent and then some.
Instead of writing more to “earn more,” I wrote less and shockingly watched my reader stats and followers go up daily.
Let me unpack my mixed feelings one layer at a time.
I was experiencing what many therapists (including myself) would call a post-traumatic trigger. Write what you know. Write about your lived experience. Shed your own blood on the page. These are just a few mottos writers eat, sleep, and breathe by.
Write what you know.
All that I know I have learned through trial and error, joy and pain, and often incredible suffering. My article that went viral was emotionally charged. Emotion breeds connection. My unusual, uncomfortable situation received the attention of those who resonated on some level. For me, the writing was cathartic. Over flourless chocolate cake and chai, I purged my discomfort, not for my readers, but for my suffering self.
Write about your lived experience.
Our minds have a negativity bias, which, for the aspiring professional writer, is perhaps of more benefit than harm. We love the hero/heroine’s tales. Our seeking psyches yearn to read about human’s overcoming their own horrors through inner grit and vigor. The act of writing my viral article was one of courage. I was able to connect a present trigger to past trauma and take back the power my 23-year-old self lost with one simple word.
The mixed feelings quandary is perhaps one we are all familiar with. Our inner worlds are complex. While it is healing for me to write about my struggles, it is also very difficult. I have wrestled with some of my most revealing pieces for days, sometimes weeks. It has taken me decades to write about the event I superficially touched on in The “Sex” Proposal, which took me years upon years to process and feel safe talking about without shaking with rage or breaking down in a fit of tears. You can imagine when I got my first hate comment by an unknown woman claiming it was “her” husband I slept with (Ummm, I never wrote about that in the article nor did that even happen in my past), I got a little shaken up. Trolling is a thing. Sadly, there are plenty of angry, sad, grieving folk that are itching to project their unexpressed feelings onto perfect strangers. Why? Because somehow cyberspace feels safe.
Cyberspace is about as “safe” as the real-world, isn’t it? I had to block my first cyber-troll and decided to start a pen-name account to share more intimate stories.
Sharing my stories is healing for me, because the written word is the Medicine Woman of my soul, and because if my story helps heal the psyche of another, then my pain and suffering have served its greater purpose.
My pen name account is the shield my writer self needs to protect my highly sensitive nature. Writers are humans too. Every word that is written to us or about us touches the deep inner chord of my soul. I’ve come to accept that words can hurt as much as they can heal, and that is what gives them power.
Shedding my own blood on the page is as therapeutic as it is traumatic.
I have many bloody, emotionally intense stories to write about. They are the stuff platforms like Medium are made of. We live in a voyeuristic world where another’s pain is someone else's pleasure. We need to hear the stories of others to remind us that what we have could be worse. We need others’ stories to remind us we are not alone in our suffering. We need others’ stories to remind us this world is made as much from blood and tears as it is from laughter and grace.
Writing The “Sex” Proposal took willpower. I had to suppress the urge to run. In fact, there were a million better other things I would rather have done than focus on the feelings that jolted through me after a near-stranger asked me to have tantric sex with him when his wife was out of town.
This is what I felt before I wrote my viral piece:
When he left I started to shake. I wanted to run up and down the hill across the street. I wanted to walk briskly in the woods and clear every ugly emotion from my body and every self-blaming thought from my head. But I didn’t want to give him that much power over my emotions. Besides, I was going to hot yoga in an hour. So, instead of running or speed walking, I took my laptop to another part of the cafe and I started to write it all out.
(excerpt from The Sex Proposal)
Bleeding onto the page isn’t a pretty process. It’s a gory process that requires mental focus and emotional strength. It sometimes requires us to repress our primal urges to react and let our minds and hearts dance the dance of vulnerability one bloody word at a time.
After my article made me a nice chunk of change, I froze.
I froze just like I froze the day my 23-year-old self was propositioned to give sexual favors to my friend's father in exchange for spiritual truths. I froze the way I froze when a yoga student asked me to engage in tantric sexual practices with him when his wife was out of town.
I wasn’t able to write for weeks after my article went viral. Instead, I distracted myself by binge-watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix. It felt safe to numb my creative process with entertainment. With each episode, my shell-shocked self seemed to soften a bit.
Freezing is a defense mechanism, and sometimes a necessary one.
When we freeze, our overwhelmed nervous system is trying to find balance once again. Once I surrendered to my frozen state, I started to write again. With each word, I started to feel a little bit warmer. With each published piece I started to feel a little bit less numb — a little more my lively, creative self.
What I learned may help you too.
I learned to be more patient with my process.
I learned that freezing is okay, and sometimes necessary in order to let your nervous system come back into balance and your psyche process the triggering event.
I learned that feeling overwhelmed by success is just as normal and uncomfortable as the discomfort caused by unexpected disappointments.
I learned to start to release my expectations of certain outcomes and just enjoy the process more — because that’s what real success is all about in my book: ongoing enjoyment of the process.
If I look back at all that I’ve written over the years, it’s not the final published piece that brings me satisfaction — it’s the lived experience, the inner knowing, and the bleeding process that strums my inner soul chord.
The butterfly grows its wings during the writing process. The published piece is but the cocoon it leaves behind to be remembered by.
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