Are You Hiding Behind Your Writing - or Are You Using It as a Mirror?

5 Signs You’re Hiding Behind Your Writing—and 5 Ways to Use It as a Mirror Instead

Writing, as an act of personal creation, tells us things about ourselves. And that can be scary, because we may not always like what we’re reading about ourselves between the lines of our stories.

Even scarier, writing will tell others things about ourselves. Every word we write becomes our testimony of ourselves to the world. Putting your heart and soul—your strengths and your black-scabbed weaknesses—out there for both family members and strangers to read is dangerous business. No wonder the bare thought of it can induce bone-racking writer’s block!

Sometimes, we can be tempted to try to keep our true selves out of our writing. But this is dangerous business as well. The less of ourselves we put into our writing, the less likely our stories are going to be any good.

5 Signs You May Be Hiding Behind Your Writing

1. You’re afraid of what people will think of you when they read your story.

Even though you may not agree with all of your characters’ mindsets or actions, all of those mindsets and actions ultimately originated with you. And people will certainly have an opinion about the kind of person who dreamed them up.

2. You like to use big words so people will think you’re smart.

Writing is even more of an intellectual pursuit than it is an emotional one. The last thing any of us want readers to think is that we’re stupid. So why not pack in a few thousand-dollar words to prove them wrong?

3. You’re following the trends instead of following your heart.

Maybe the story you really want to write is about old people with Alzheimers. But maybe it’s easier and safer to write about vampires, because, hey, everybody else is doing it, right? At any rate, it seems like you have a much better chance of getting published if you’re following the market.

4. You freeze whenever you have to write an emotional scene.

Maybe you want to write about important and honest emotions. But . . . you can’t. Every time the story demands that you talk about grief or love or being a parent, your Muse clams up on you.

5. You avoid writing the subjects about which you’re passionate.

We are what we believe. That means that when others find out what we believe, they will certainly judge us (for better or worse) based upon those beliefs. If you never write anything about these subjects, then people can never judge who you really are, right?

5 Ways to Use Your Writing as a Mirror

If any one of those signs sounds familiar, then you probably are protecting yourself from being judged. You’re also robbing both yourself and your audience of the wonderful gift of a mirror. In his article “Your Guide to Pain-Free Revision” (Writer’s Digest, May/June 2013), David Corbett wrote:

 …words are a means to reveal, not something to hide behind. One of the great mistakes of writing is to think of it as a way to impress people in order to escape or obscure our own personal shortcomings.

Consider the following ways in which we can stop hiding behind our writing and instead use it as a mirror:

1. Write bravely.

Yeah, it’s tough. Suck it up and do it anyway. We only get one shot at life, and for a writer that means writing. So do it like you’ve got nothing to lose.

2. Write honestly.

Sometimes the most difficult thing about being honest with others is first being honest with ourselves. Figure out what you really think about your characters’ actions in your story, and then write from the bottom of your soul.

3. Pretend no one else will read what you’re writing.

Sometimes the easiest way to kill the fear is to tell yourself you’re the only one who’s ever going to read what you’re writing. If you finish the story and decide sharing it would be too painful, then that’s as far as it needs to go. But once you’ve got it all on paper, you may find that you have the courage to share it after all.

4. Ask yourself why you’re so worried about what people think.

Acknowledging that you care about what people think of you and your writing isn’t enough. You have to dig down deeper and figure out why you care so much. When you get right down to it, you may discover that the motives behind your fears really aren’t so convincing after all.

5. Accept your weaknesses (writing and personal) and work to improve them.

Whether it’s personal revelations or writing weaknesses that you’re afraid of showing to the world, always remember that these things can be fixed. If you don’t like what your stories are telling you about yourself, then use what you’re seeing in the mirror of your story to identify your weaknesses and start working toward strength instead.

The great thing about a mirror is that it can reflect more than one person’s face. If we’re honest in our writing, we leave readers no choice but to be honest right back. There’s no greater gift we can give a reader than the glimpse of ourselves that will prompt them to look deeper into their own inner workings.

Tell me your opinion: Does fear of other people’s opinions ever block your writing?

5 Signs You're Hiding Behind Your Writing—and 5 Signs You're Using It as a Mirror

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. KM,
    You raise great points, but my reaction is somewhat counter-intuitive. I think introverts write as a means of revealing truths about themselves that they are uncomfortable verbalizing. So in a way, an introvert’s true personality, dreams, fears, and world view come out on the page, rather than in conversations with friends. I know when I finished my first novel, I found the main character, though not based on me, represented my world view and values. This was completely subconscious and not intended. So, for me, fiction becomes an outlet for discovering and sharing my true feelings. Thanks for another insightful post.

    • Ultimately, of course, every writer’s inclination or disinclination to “hide” behind his writing comes down to his own personality and quirks. But I do agree with you. So long as we’re not letting fear of rejection – on whatever level – interfere with our ability to write honestly from our deepest selves, we can’t help but end up sharing things about ourselves that even we may not be entirely conscious of. The truth is always going to be freeing – even if it might be a scary thing to tell at first.

  2. Let me tell you a story, KM. This week I reconnected with an old Navy friend, the (now) ex-wife of my bootcamp bunk mate. In the summer of ’85, the younger sister of this friend came to visit her. Thus began a three week romance–thought that may be too strong a word–between me and the young lady that changed me in a profound way. It was all innocent. A dance on the beach. A few movies. But I shipped out and we lost touch. When I reconnected with the older sister this week on facebook, I noticed the pink ribbon and “sister” logo. My heart absolutely sank. As odd as it sounds, I felt like 28 years closed up in a moment. My former flame is doing fine. Recovering. But the memories of that wonderful summer just came crasing down on me like a wave. Of course, I’ve spent the week trying to translate these emotions into my writing. It’s hard. It’s very personal and very difficult to explaint my wife why this memory is so strong. I think most of us here will understand. It’s not a re-kindled love. It’s just that some people impact us in ways that we cannot control. A wonderful summer topped off by this young lady (now 45) is not something I can sweep aside. This is the writer’s duty–though it feels like a curse sometimes–to take those very personal emotions and lay them down for the world to see. My first advice to any new writer would be this: if you’re not willing to rip open the wall to your heart and let the world see what’s inside, find another profession. This is not for the timid. Thanks for the post. It hit home for me.

    • This is excellent advice – and, honestly, a wonderful story. I think I speak for most writers in that we never seem to truly process moments, ideas, experiences, or emotions without somehow finding a way to translate them to the page.

  3. My writing? No. My willingness to put my writing out to the world? Yes. One set of projects is probably a little too close to my own reality to be comfortable being out there. Even though I change and tweak the characters, I do fear they will be too easily recognized, especially by people in a certain circle of my life. Another project is incredibly dark and violent. That doesn’t bother me near as much, though I do wonder if my friends will look at me differently once they read it. So far, only one person in my local crit group has read it in its entirety! My current pet project is one I’d be okay with anyone reading, so apparently, I’ve grown as a writer. 🙂

    • There’s something to be said for pen names. Although they can often end up being more of a hassle than they’re worth, they do give us a little extra wiggle room to be ourselves without fear of people in our lives judging us.

      • I like my name, so I’m not all that willing to use a pen-name, unless it becomes absolutely necessary. That being said, the older I get, the more I develop an attitude of “I don’t really care what they think of me”. That can be beneficial.

        • K.M. Weiland says

          Ultimately, that “to heck with their bad opinion” attitude is the one we all have to have if we’re going to move forward. If we’re worrying about what someone thinks, itg’s either a sign that we shouldn’t be doing it, or that we care too much about their opinion in the first place.

  4. I’m not sure that I am worried about what others might think, but the article did ring true to me. I am a little scared of what I may unearth if I finish writing this. I am fulfilling my fantasy through fiction, and I’m frightened I wont be able to write a protagonist strong enough, just as I wasn’t strong enough. Or worse, what if she is?

    I like point number three. Dance like no one is watching, or in our world, write like no one is reading. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      The great thing about writing is that, unlike life, if it doesn’t work out the first time, we can always go back and edit our protagonist’s actions.

  5. I have always struggled with this.
    I feared people would judge me or confuse me with my stories, but I published anyway.
    I haven’t written in years (besides blogging) but now I feel like creating fiction again. I have to find a way to deal with the fear because I can not NOT write.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Sometimes the only way to deal with fear is just to do what we’re afraid of anyway. It’s messy. It hurts. But, in the end it works – kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid all at once.

      • I agree! I used to write with the fear of what people would think of me when they read some of the darker themes in my stories. My writing always suffered for it. I wouldn’t go that extra mile and connect with the work, because I was too concerned with offending and as I censored myself I could feel my work coming up short. Only recently I have begun pushing through this fear to keep writing and my writing feels much stronger because of that change. Thanks for a very interesting article K.M.! And good for you for publishing despite your fears, Ana!

        • K.M. Weiland says

          The work always suffers when we’re censoring ourselves – whether it’s in regard to characters, themes, or even just our own writing skills. We’re so much better off unleashing ourselves on the page during the first draft. We can always edit later if need be.

  6. Great post, Katie!

    Although we have the option to live vicariously through our characters and stories, we sometimes hold back because we’re worried that people will think we are what we write. On some level that’s true since we write about our experiences, but writing is also about using imagination to explore worlds and issues you wouldn’t under normal circumstances. I think people forget that although we are sometimes reflected in our characters, we aren’t them. I write stories about serial killers but that doesn’t mean I kill people to understand the mind of a killer or how it’s done. 🙂

    • One thing I think we often forget in fearing what people will think of our writing is that *they* are choosing to read it. They’re experiencing our worlds and characters just as vicariously as we are. They’re choosing to partner with us in the storytelling experience.

  7. This really hit home. I’ve always had a hang-up with being a people-pleaser. Sad thing is, I finished the first story I ever attempted, had a total blast while writing it, but haven’t been able to do it again. I believe it is due to the fact that it came so close to being published, but at the last moment was declined. The rejection was devastating. Some editors’ comments are enough to send us into dark hibernation. Writing is such a vulnerable endeavor. I remember describing it one time to a friend as feeling naked and starkly exposed. But it is a part of me, the way I was made, so I press on, hoping to eventually push past that roadblock of fear and experience the absolute fun I know it can be.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      The important thing to remember, especially when dealing with professional rejection, is that writing, like all art, is highly subjective. Are there objectively bad things about our writing? Indubitably. But I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say that 80% of bad reviews are based more subjective reasons. Even accounting for objective mistakes, just because someone dislikes the story you love doesn’t mean you can’t go right on loving it. If *we* love a story and enjoy writing it, we can comfort ourselves, first and foremost, in the knowledge that it has already fulfilled its chief objective. Nothing anyone else says about it can change that.

  8. This post and the comments are all very inspiring. Although it is crucial to be honest in our writing, I’ve been learning that there is such thing as going too far with content during an angry or impulsive mood and regretting it afterwords, which ultimately makes you feel guilty and ironically less honest to yourself.
    By the way, I finished “Structuring Your Novel” recently and I loved it! The section on scene structure was especially captivating and useful. I’ll be purchasing “Outlining Your Novel” soon enough.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Writing is always going to be a deeply emotional experience, but there’s also a certain amount of distance we have to gain from our deeply personal emotions if we’re going to objectively serve our story.

      So glad you enjoyed Structuring Your Novel! I hope you find Outlining useful as well.

    • I totally agree. However, I think that’s where editing comes in. I think the best way to write is to spill your feelings onto the page, walk away for awhile and then come back to it, so you can see your work with a clear eye after getting a little distance. Then you can chop away at it, so it isn’t so raw, or so that it better communicates what you wanted it to say.

  9. It’s amazing how the desire to make oneself likeable is almost always counter-productive. The same can be said with writing.

    Perhaps the goal is to find balance between 100% unadulterated written truth and 100% compassion for and awareness of ones audience.

    Good luck…. :-/ Thank goodness it’s worth it in the end!

  10. Wow. Great article. I didn’t realize it, but I do almost everything you mentioned in the “hiding behind your writing” section. I really need to work on the other ones in using writing like a mirror. Thanks for a great post.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Most people are people pleasers, to one extent or another, so it’s really no surprise that our inclination to please filters over into our writing. Nothing wrong with that – to a point – but we definitely don’t want to be sacrificing quality or honesty in a mistaken attempt to protect ourselves from the (perceived) dislike of others.

  11. Douglas Newton says

    Thanks for this post, K.M, it is very enlightening, and I’m enjoying everyone’s comments. This is something I’ve been grappling with for a while. Let me share my story. My wife and I separated in 1993 and a couple months later I was fired from my job. (I challenged the organization on the dismissal and they settled out of court, accepting that I was wrongfully dismissed) By 1996 I was divorced.

    For a long time thereafter, the only thing that helped me soothe the pain of the breakup of my marriage, and the stresses of being a small business entrepreneur, was when I sat down to write anything, a business proposal, a letter, even if it were my to do list. (Especially when I wrote freehand on my notepad.)

    Eventually, after searching deep down in my soul, I found out that writing is my passion and indeed my gift, and I decided that I wanted to be an author. After suffering from many years of self-doubt, I’m finally half-way in the process of writing my first novel.

    I have a flawed protagonist; his wife walks out on him because he had an extramarital affair. He also gets fired from his job; he’s been blamed for something he had no control over. The novel is a thriller; the setting, scenario surrounding the breakup, and reasons for firing my protagonist are all different. I’ve given both my protagonist and his wife a great backstory. But I’m still a bit afraid of opening up myself to the public, because the protagonists’ predicament is so close to my own. I’m afraid that people who know me will think that this was the case with me personally. (An extra-marital affair was not the reason for the breakup of my marriage and subsequent divorce).

    When I first got divorced, I had this nagging, this hankering to write, and to write especially about my life and what happened to me. So when I decided to write this story, one of the problems I gave my protagonist was a broken marriage. But you know what; I find it liberating to write this character and his problems, it really frees me and scares me at the same time.

    Additionally, I find that many of the issues this protagonist has to deal with relate to my own personal issues from childhood and throughout my life. And this is also liberating and scary because I know how people will perceive me.

    But no matter how scary, I’m willing to write honestly and deeply, to rip open the wall of my heart, because I know it is part of my continued healing and personal growth. I believe it will also help others to reflect on their own lives, and maybe help them heal as well. LOL!!!
    What do you think?

    • K.M. Weiland says

      I think you’re spot on. Writing is a tremendously powerful form of catharsis, but it only works if we’re honest. Sometimes it’s especially frightening to share things from our own lives (especially, when we’re afraid they’ll be misinterpreted), but it’s valuable to remember that what people think can’t change the truth. What is true is true, no matter how other people perceive it. Truth is always valuable.

  12. Great post – really struck a chord with me. I’ve just started my third novel and part of me wants nothing more than to show my work to the world, even if it’s just online or self-published. However, I have a huge fear of what people will think of it and, by extension, how they will judge me. So far, only my husband and two friends know I write at all and even they haven’t read much of my work. The rest of my friends and family don’t have any idea that I write because I’m so scared to tell them. I think it’s precisely because my writing contains so much of myself that I’m afraid to share it. I have trouble telling people my thoughts and feelings face to face. So, if they dislike my writing, it almost feels like a personal attack on my soul. Sounds silly, I know. I need to strike a balance between my fear of judgement and my desire to finally open myself up to the world. Until I can finally abandon my anxiety, I guess my work will never be seen 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland says

      It’s not silly at all: the vast majority of writers experience that feeling at one point or another. The trick is realizing that a) art is subjective, perforce it’s impossible that everyone will like or respect what you write and b) as a result, you need to separate your self-worth (as both both a person and a writer) from the judgment of others. Easy to say, hard to do. But very necessary if we’re to survive this writing life without needless pain.

  13. Another one of the problem I face. Sometimes I think you are reading my brain and writing posts to address that specific anxiety of mine. 😉 Maybe all writers inner workings are same.
    My issue is that my mother is almost always breathing at my neck. She is so excited in my career choice, she wants to be active herself in all parts of it. And the exact person I am scared to share myself IS her.
    And the worst part, I don’t know what kind of self-possessed writers she read. But she is always taunting me with stories about writers who write their novels over night while having a job, babies and a family of theirs. And she also frowns whenever I start reading novels to learn, she think by reading others thoughts, I will stifle my creativity.
    Non-writers are SO hard to handle 🙁

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      They’re especially hard to handle when we love them and don’t want them to feel rejected when we need to push them away to gain a little space. The best thing you do is just to be honest in your writing.

  14. I’m nearing the end of a stand-up comedy course, and I needed help getting past my blocks. I’m not a writer or a professional comedian. Writing comedy does show how tempting it is to go around your real narrative to get a laugh, or fit in, like you said. Thanks for this piece!

Trackbacks

  1. […] K.M. Weiland with 5 Signs You’re Hiding Behind Your Writing—and 5 Ways to Use It as a Mirror Instead […]

  2. […] we think we can go. Alastair Humphreys talks about expanding your comfort zone; K. M. Weiland shows how to write bravely and honestly; Joshua Foer discusses how to overcome the OK plateau of performance and personal growth; and Leo […]

  3. […] Luckily K. M. Weiland breaks down her thoughts on the subject into five points in her article 5 Signs You’re Hiding Behind Your Writing and 5 Ways to Use It As A Mirror Instead. The five points are (to read the explanation behind each point click on the link […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.