Why Is Sharing Fiction So Scary?
A story can feel more revealing than hundreds of blog posts
I’ve been getting into fiction writing recently. I spend my evenings scribbling in a notebook, or creating Pinterest boards bursting with ideas for characters and settings, or setting up elaborate, sprawling Word documents outlining plots.
It’s fun. I haven’t written fiction in a really long time, mainly because my job is now ghostwriting web content, and I keep getting writing fatigue. Now, I can’t stop writing fiction. I wander around the house thinking about people and places and scenarios that don’t exist. I have fake conversations between my characters in the shower. (True, and slightly pathetic, story.)
But all these little stories are staying locked in my head (and on paper, in indecipherable handwriting).
I’m too nervous to share them.
I’ve been writing for years now, for various websites and blogs. I’m always pretty candid. I try to be careful with specific details, and I try not to share too much about my kids, but on the whole, I’m honest. A few years ago I read this quote:
‘Write hard and clear about what hurts’ — Ernest Hemingway
And I said, ‘Okay.’
I kept doing it. I delved deep into the things that felt a bit tender. Like prodding a bruise. It had an impact on me as a person: I felt braver and less guarded, in real life and on-screen. It also had an impact on my readers (mainly friends and family). They appreciated it, and they opened up in return.
Over the years, I’ve written about chronic pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and the terrifying vulnerability of becoming a parent. I’ve written about teenage domestic abuse. I’ve written about things that I never would have dreamed I would years ago. I’ve started to lose the fear that comes with hitting ‘publish’ on these difficult subjects.
But fiction? That’s a whole other story.
When I ask myself this question, the first thing that comes to mind is the word intimate. Which if you think about it in this context, it is slightly ridiculous. I’ve written about the three (horrific) times that I got mastitis whilst breastfeeding my kids, for example. I’ve written about childbirth. I’ve written about the time I accidentally flashed my bra to the postman. Why is something that doesn’t exist more intimate than that?
I think it’s because I’m scared that my fiction writing will accidentally reveal something about myself, buried somewhere in my subconscious, and that thing will be exposed for everyone to stare at.
Actually, scrap that. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried that people will think that. I’m worried that I’ll write about something dark, for example, and people will think bloody hell, I never knew Megan was such a psychopath. I’ll write about a fictional person and people I know will wonder if that character is based on someone I know. I’ve been writing about a relationship breakdown in a kind of experimental format recently; I don’t want people thinking I’m having marital problems.
But on the whole, the above worry is just vanity. It doesn’t really matter what people think. I should know this by now.
No, then. I think the real problem is this: writing fiction is a different discipline for me, and I’m worried that people will think I’m not very good at it.
I think that’s at the heart of it.
Writing fiction makes me feel vulnerable because it feels new. It isn’t; I started writing stories at the age of five and I haven’t really stopped since then. But this ‘taking it seriously’ thing. That’s new. If I write something that is totally plucked from my imagination and then ask people to read it, it will make me feel nervous and small and exposed. Because I’ve never done it before.
Once upon a time, I shared a blog post on Facebook for the first time. It was a heartfelt blog post about my post-baby body, and skinny shaming, and general body-related hang-ups. It got a good response from people; they connected with it, and therefore, with me. And I started getting addicted to that connection. It’s always a massive thrill (and a privilege) to have someone say, “Woah, that really resonated with me, you put into words exactly what I’ve been thinking.”
I was so scared to share that post. My finger hovered over the ‘publish’ button for about an hour. I must have re-read it twenty times to make sure it was okay.
I’m so glad I did it. If I didn’t do it, where would I be now? Probably not writing for a living, that’s for sure. You need a thick skin to do this sort of stuff, and you only gain that thick skin by being willing to take risks. This is the thing when you want to do something creative. There’s an inherent vulnerability to it. But my best work seems to be born from that place of slightly nervous, trembling honesty.
That’s why I’ve got such an appreciation for people who are willing to take these kinds of risks. So many people I know have set up Instagram accounts to share their poetry, or their flash fiction, or their Sims 4 clothing packs (shout out to you, Trace), or their macrame projects. When I see them I think: good for you! Because I know that there’s a good chance that person sat there for an hour with their finger hovering over the ‘publish’ button too.
I’m going to do it. I’m going to publish some fiction. I’m going to polish up this character sketch I’ve been writing this week and then just publish it, whether I can find a home for it on Medium or not.
(Agh. What have I done?)
An online magazine about the art, craft, and business of storytelling, STORIUS is a publication for everyone interested in how stories are created, discovered, distributed, and consumed.