How Self-Conscious Writers Can Move Forward

Most of us are self-conscious writers. Most of us sit by ourselves at our keyboards, but we’re not alone in our solitude. Who knows how many other people are in the room with us? Our parents, our spouses, our coworkers, our critique partners, the ghosts of classic authors, the doppelgängers of current bestsellers? And every single one of these people has something to say. They sit clustered around our keyboards, squinting judgments on not just the technicalities of our prose, but on our content as well. We hunch our shoulders and keep typing resolutely, but their whispered demands can’t help but infiltrate our minds.

If we don’t stave them off, we’re likely to start writing for them (or, rather, for what we imagine they want), rather than out of the deep and honest well of ourselves. The moment that happens is a sad moment indeed in the realm of writerdom.

Generally speaking, authors live in a state of quivering fear. Aside from the general worries that our storycraft isn’t good enough, we’re also usually on the verge (or often way over the verge) of freaking out about what people are going to think about us. This is bad. I cannot even begin to tell you how bad this is (think nuclear fallout bad).

Giving Readers the Gift of Ourselves

The best gift we can share with our readers is our honesty, and the moment we begin to worry about the worth of that honesty is the moment our writing becomes stilted, forced, and fake. Bestselling author Terry McMillan, in an interview with Gabriel Packard (The Writer, February 2012), advises authors to:

…write without looking over [your] shoulder. Write it as if no one is going to read it. That’s what frees you. If you can stop thinking about critics, and your editor, and whether your book’s going to make it into the Times, and how long it is going to be on the list, I mean, that can totally free you up.

I recently read an early draft of teenage author Braden Russell’s first novel, and the thing that struck me most was the utter lack of self-consciousness. It showed. The novel lived and breathed and walked and ran because the author hurled himself onto the page without worrying about pleasing others. He pleased himself, and because he did so, he produced something fresh and honest enough to please readers.

How to Beat the Monster of Self-Consciousness

Admittedly, writing for yourself is much easier before that first book is published. Once one of your babies is out there in Readerland (where it will be judged), you can’t help but seize up a bit as you sit down to write subsequent books. Suddenly, the cold, wonderful, harsh reality is that you aren’t writing for just yourself anymore. Sadly (or perhaps not), this is no excuse. If we’re going to write, we must write with abandon.

Forget wielding that machete and flamethrower on intruders: start wielding them against the fanged, cackling monster of your own self-consciousness. You know that old saying about courage not being the absence of fear but rather the ability to move forward in spite of it? Well, that’s good writing for you. If what you’re writing scares you, you can bet you’re moving in the right direction.

As much as you can, ignore those judgmental voices hissing and whispering over your shoulder. Write for yourself. Write the story you want to write. Write what you love, what makes your heart soar and your chest collapse. Write what scares you. Write it even if you know others won’t like it. This is the well from which great writing flows. So gird your loins, seize your weapons, poke in your earplugs, and start hammering those keys!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you worry about how others will judge your writing? Tell me in the comments!

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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.


  1. I love this post. As a writer who has not yet been published, I already worry about what people will think, as my aspirations take me to agents, the people who Will judge me on my first hurdle to traditional publishing.

    With this post in mind I will continue to hammer away at my keyboard and attempt to have just me and my own shadows in that room rather than the shadows of the many others I yet fear.

    Thank you.

  2. Great post, I’ll be adding a link to it on my blog 🙂

  3. Haven’t shown my writing to anyone yet, so haven’t really worried about how others will judge it. Probably they’ll think it’s nonsense from a confused mind >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  4. Interesting post. I like to think I write for myself but the truth is I want to sell my books so of course I hope others will enjoy my writing. I would not consciously write for others or my next book might end up about a girl called Harriet Trotter who lives in a cupboard under the stairs and goes to a witches boarding school but whilst there discovers that Mary had twins, one of whom was Jesus and the other was a witch who founded a secret organisation in the Catholic church which became Harriet’s witches’ boarding school called Witchwarts….

    Hang on a minute, what a great story. Must go I’ve got a bestseller to write.:)

    • Vasil Marku says

      Now that you are in that writing story, get out and don’t forget your notebook to finish what your self conscious lights up at any moment after…

  5. @Rebecca: In some ways (though, of course, not all), the time before publication is one of the best, simply because we get to write for no one but ourselves. So even as you strive to leave it behind, be sure to enjoy it!

    @Cate: Thanks! I appreciate it.

    @Cold As Heaven: The trick is not to care even if they do (mistakenly, of course) believe that.

  6. @Christopher: Not to burst your bubble or anything, but you just might get slapped with a lawsuit (or two) for that one!

  7. I love this post. It’s so true because (for me) I really care what other people think of my writing. But also when I write , I write it all down , filling the page with what I believe in. When I do that I feel amazing but then I go thinking about what other people think ..
    Is my way good or bad ??

  8. Great post, Katie. I need to shut off the voices whispering over my shoulder and only listen to my own. Easier said than done.

    And I’d love to read Braden’s novel. It sounds wonderful.

  9. @Bliss: Sooner or later, we will consider the potential reactions of our readers. But if we can stave off those considerations until at least the second draft, that’s the way to go.

    @Lorna: Sooner or later, I’m sure you’ll read him on the bestsellers list.

  10. Sounds like you read my post this week and even though it sounds like I might be a horrific failure, I appreciate your post for all the good advice. I guess what I honestly meant to say in my post is: that I’ve fallen asleep too many times lately reading Pulitzer Prize or Best-Selling novels where I didn’t feel there was a morsel of consideration for the money-paying reader who scraped together a few dollars for the book, in her quest for entertainment. I will always believe that the reader is the most important person in publishing and though that sounds like a mobius circle with infinite humor, I think it might be something to think about.

  11. No, I didn’t read your post actually, but now I’ll have to stop by and check it out! Of course, any author who hopes to be published must ultimately be considerate of his readers. But before we start worrying about them, we first have to write for ourselves and to ourselves – with the kind of honesty and passion that would have us still writing even if no one else ever read us.

  12. Thank you for including me in this wonderful blog post, Katie. You have no idea how much I enjoy our little chats on twitter, you are a great sounding board, and you have inspired me more than once to take my books in a new direction.
    I’m the luckiest of authors: I have a publisher who is with me ALL the time, even as I write something new. There is constant interest, encouragement, often enough fun and silliness, but always, always, faith and support. It’s like writing in a safe cocoon, in a place where I don’t HAVE to look over my shoulder, because I know I’m perfectly safe. Right now I’m writing my third book. Like my second one, it was signed before I ever started writing it. I am very lucky.

  13. Mariam, you are one of the most fearless, *un*-self-conscious writers I know. While the rest of us are tripping ourselves up with fear and doubt, you’re out there writing – and not just writing, but having an unabashed blast with it every single day. I totally respect you for that.

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  15. Anonymous says

    I fall into a deep well of self-doubt and despair every time I hand over a piece of the MS to an Alpha Reader. But I keep doing it, because it is good for me as a writer, and a human being to get past my comfort barriers. I have to face it – if I’m going to get this thing published, people are going to read it and they are going to have opinions about it. I can’t let that stop me. I have a story to tell, and one way or another… It’s coming out. So, I write for me, but I also remember I’m not the only person (hopefully!)who will read it.
    Lisa @UrbanMilkmaid Pedersen

  16. What about writing for God? What He thinks matters more than what anyone else thinks.

  17. @Lisa: The good news about submitting ourselves to the (inevitable) judgments of others is that it eventually gets easier. I don’t know if the niggles of fear and self-doubt ever totally go away, but they do lessen.

    @Storyteller: Absolutely. I like to say I’m writing for an audience of “one and One.” Ultimately, if we’re living a Christ-centered life, that “deep and honest well” I talk about should be something that creates art that predominately glorifies and pleases Him. If our focus is where it should be, all the rest of the static won’t matter.

  18. great post, Katie! Once my beta-reader who knows me in person told me that I expose myself too much in my prose and I may be hurt by people because of that. Strangely, the only thing I tried achieving is exposing my character. I don’t know why people assume that my characters are autobiographical ))

  19. That’s one of the key dangers of being a writer: readers often assume we *are* our characters and assign all their weird/traits/actions to us. Considering some of the far-out things our characters end up doing, that can be a little disconcerting to say the least!

  20. Steve Mathisen says

    Now this is some of the best advice I have ever heard (or heard again, because it echoes something I already knew but ignored). Thank you so much for the excellent reminder.

  21. I try not to be self-conscious, but I can’t help it sometimes. I write what I like to read: epic fantasy and mostly, I’m not ashamed of it.
    Where my concern comes in is that right now … my pitch/synopsis/query sucks. I just can’t get it quite right. The familiar tropes overwhelm and what’s unique about my story doesn’t stand out. This is what I have to work on once I have my current round of critiques for my online group completed.
    Will be searching your archives for help with that 🙂

  22. I always worry about what others will think of my writing, to the point where I sometimes get paralyzed. I just have to cheer myself on and give myself permission to do what you said–write freely with abandon. You’re right, it’s the only way to write anything worth reading.

  23. I constantly remind myself to toss that pesky self-consciousness to the wind and just and write what I want, in order to tell the story I want to read. If I can’t enjoy it, who will?

  24. I think all writers go through this on some level. I manage to put it out of my mind while I’m writing, but when I stop…I do think about who would like my work, and it’s an unsettling feeling. But I’m the type that’s most happy when I’m creating something, and that’s what keeps me going. I think one of the reasons why I decided to self-publish was because I wanted complete creative freedom, and it works best for my particular situation. I’m glad I live in the age where this is all possible!

  25. Great advice! I don’t usually think of anyone else while I’m writing, but as I evaluate what I’ve written I think I’m my own worst critic. Even when beta readers say they like what or how I’ve written, I have trouble fully trusting their judgement. Fortunately I love writing, so I just keep at it. 🙂

  26. I ignore other people’s opinions until I’ve finished the first draft and am ready for the critics.

  27. I pretty much had to tell myself my grandmother simply wasn’t allowed to read my last book. It’s a little risque (protag who was an actress/whore before becoming Empress) and I just kept envisioning her reaction when I wrote some of the pages.

    Nope. She just can’t read it. Problem solved.

    (Of course, if she does read it, that will be an uncomfortable conversation. Eep!)

  28. It is amazing how we always read exactly what we need at exactly the right time. Thank you for restoring the truth to my soul, a truth which I keep tossing aside for the opinions of others.

    I have been letting my fear of what others will think get in the way of my writing, which was the kiss of death on my creativity. After wasting 4 hours trying to re-write my novel in order to impress a future publisher I finally gave up, and went back to the previous draft knowing in my heart that I am on the right track. To thy own self be true. That is right on!

  29. Both JK Rowling (Harry Potter) and Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials) are hugely successful writers. Both have been quoted in interviews as saying they write what they want to write. If people want to read it, great. If not, that’s their choice. I like this unselfconscious approach to writing and it’s liberating.

  30. Thank you so much for this advice. I am going to give it a try, though I’ve never girded a loin before…

  31. This is a timely post, Katie. I needed to read this today. Storyteller’s comment and your response hit the nail right on the head for me. If I focus on this real reason why I write I will be less self-conscious. Thank you for shifting my focus back to the truth.

  32. Very appreciated.

  33. Agree with Storyteller, your response, and Irene. But I’d like to add: I write from a passion for the language! If I wasn’t a writer, I just might go into linguistics. The story is for God and His Kingdom, but the writing is for the simple pleasure of crafting sentences. Some of my greatest joys are not only nailing the story (huge, btw) but getting that paragraph to sound, I don’t know….you know it when you get it. There’s a lyrical quality to it, and it conveys meaning not just in it’s content but in its form. Beautiful.

  34. It’s a garden party. You learn that you can’t please everyone. You must please yourself and if you write it and promote it, they will come. I think gender becomes the issue, though. Men seem to succeed more than women because they have had a long history of success and they just put it out there.

    Women are natural nurturers and pleasers. They have to go beyond this and establish their own identity first…get comfortable in their. I’ll own skin and go for it.

    By the way joined your blog via GFC, followed via Networked Blogs and liked via Facebook. Return the favor and give my blog a look see…perhaps join? I lost 120 pounds in the last 4 years and kept it off these last two. Went from obese to 119 pounds. I’ll let you do the adding. But I post about everything from #thinspiration, to the food revolution, to Heart Attack Grill, a restaurant that promotes food porn. Thanks for joining.

  35. I write non fiction, predominately, so that either limits or extends my audience depending upon the topic. Gender plays a huge part in this. Women as nurturers and pleasers are more prone to writing for their audiences…and perhaps they get stuck. Men since they have a long history at it are more apt to write expecting others to read it. Traditional media has helped them tremendously. However, the paradigm is shifting. Hope this completely changes.

    I have joined your blog via GFC. I have followed via Networked. I have liked on FB. Love it if you return the favor and join my blog. Thanks. It’s

  36. This post is just FANTASTIC! Thank you so much for writing this.
    Yeah, I definitely have EVERYONE in my family “sitting on my shoulders”, nagging me about what is and isn’t appropriate as I’m writing. That’s why I really appreciate this reminder about courage. Any project that’s taken on with courage is a success, because whether or not it’s top notch quality, courage is a fantastic starting point not to mention that it’s also inspirational to others.

    Thank you for this post!

  37. Oh, my Lord.

    I’ve had several ideas for the longest time, but I’m afraid they’ll flop, or that I’ll mess up, that the characters are flat… I don’t know. I’ve tried beginning them, but I always hate the first paragraph and delete it.

    This post… it’s like a wake up call. It’s reminded me to write without fear, not to change, not to conform….

    Thank you. Thank you so much.

  38. My first novel was published last December and at first I was obsessive about checking Kindle rankings and reviews. I was elated with positive ones and able to rationalize the one negative one (the reader was looking for a “fun” read and it’s of a serious nature.) I hand-sold a lot of them to friends and acquaintances, and loved getting positive feedback but then worried about people who didn’t give me any feedback, sure that they didn’t like it. This whole process can take so much energy. Finally, I’m just back to getting the next one ready to go and trying to focus on the pure pleasure of the process.

  39. @Steve: I often say writers almost always know what they need to know. Sometimes it’s just a matter of hearing it several times before it sinks in!

    @Melanie: Queries are almost always scarier than even writing the book. It’s much easier to get lost in the world of our fiction when we’re immersed in a 100k novel. When we’re trying to boil it all down into a one-pager that will decide the fate of our career – well, that’s terrifying! Just remember that your worth as a writer isn’t determined by others’ valuation of the worth of your story.

    @Jan: Sometimes you have to literally tell yourself that no one else is going to read this. If you can give yourself that permission to write just for yourself, you can trick yourself into silencing the demons. Then, should it turn out that you write something great after all, you can always change your mind and share it with others.

    @Abby: Exactly. If we write something we enjoy and approve of, we’re almost certain to find an audience among likeminded readers.

    @Eleni: Self-publishing offers many positives and negatives – and this is one area that offers both. By choosing to bypass the gatekeepers, we’re able to achieve our goals almost instantaneously. Sometimes this can backfire by fooling us into thinking something is ready to share when it isn’t. But it also allows us to speak directly to the audience most likely to “get” us.

    @Carol: Ultimately, we’re our own best judge, if only because we’re the final judge. We’re the only person who can make the final decisions about our work. It’s important to refine and balance our judgments by listening to the input of others, but it’s also important to trust our gut instincts.

    @Gideon: That’s the way to do it! Write the first draft for yourself, then refine so that it will be accessible for others.

    @Stephanie: You bring up a good point. Sometimes it’s better to simply avoid judgmental situations. If you know someone won’t get what you’ve written and you feel the confrontation just isn’t worth the trouble, it’s sometimes better to just not even go there.

    @Jennifer: Our instincts are never going to be right 100% of the time, but more often than not when your gut just won’t stop gnawing on a particular feeling, you know you have go with it, whatever the outside opposition.

    @Fiona: Bingo. If we’re not writing for ourselves, why write? It’s a difficult, sometimes depressing, often frustrating lifestyle, and if we’re negating all the rewards by ignoring our own needs and feelings, why do it?

    @Eric: Give the earplugs a try first. They’re easier. 😉

  40. @Irene: Life is about perspective. We can do the right thing day and day out, but if our perspective isn’t in the right place, we’re never going to reach the full potential God has planned for us.

    @Traci: Thanks for reading!

    @Daniel: I agree. I love every aspect of storytelling, each in its own way. The research, the outline, the writing, the revision. It all brings its own beauty. I didn’t come to the craft out of love for the language, but my love for it now would keep me writing no matter what.

    @Goldensylph: I think this is true for everyone, no matter gender. We all have to examine, rationalize, and sometimes break free from the expectations placed on us by others. We have to strip away the non-essentials and get down to the true and honest core of ourselves (even when we don’t like what we find. Then we have to analyze everything we write to determine if we’re writing out of honesty—or to the expectations of others.

    @Paula: Talent is powerful, but without courage, it has nowhere to go. Courage, even without talent, can change the world.

    @Annika: If you love those ideas and those characters, write them! Our love for our own stories is the most important quality in their success.

    @Victoria: You’re exactly right: worrying about others’ opinions sucks energy like mad. Unfortunately, it’s also addictive. We have to be able to balance our need for feedback with the reality that not everyone will like or “get” our work. If we can keep in mind the necessarily subjective nature of art, the bad reviews don’t sting so hard or seem so important.

  41. authors live in a state of quivering fear
    This was me in my last two writing classes, but turned up to a million. I wasn’t in a state of “quivering fear” so as as “throw toddler tantrums and sob in the prayer room” because her requirements were miles away from my preferences. So I was writing for her. And what I churned out for that class was the worst slop I’ve ever done, because I was so self concious. Even some of my fanfiction (which many people regard as the pit of writing) is better than the short story I wrote for her.
    I’m hoping to bleach out those memories with summer writing for myself.

  42. “I write because I love writing, and because there are stories in my head I want to tell. And that, my friends, are the ONLY reasons.”

    Ms. Kobram’s thought is where my whole drive to write got started, and every story I write begins from the same virgin thought – I have lived an interesting life and people will be interested in reading about it if my writing is good enough. But I have learned that the writing/submission process is multi-tiered and filled with gray areas.

    My first draft contains the opening and the resolution with some of the plot twists and character development in between. I have the major theme, the main characters, the hook, the 2nd act exposition, the character’s reactions and the resolution in about 1,000 words. All of it is pure, written from my own memory, as I originally intend the reader to see it. This is my outline.

    Then I start the 2nd draft process of filling in the blank spaces – here is where those ‘other voices’ start seeping in. I am a first-time author, as yet unpublished and unsigned and resistance to the submission requirement page is futile. By the time I get to the 4th draft I am only writing to please the gatekeepers. As I collect rejection letters – every single one a dagger to my heart – I remember a line from one that says I am “telling” the readers about the story rather than “showing” it to them and I take that seriously, even if it means a major overhaul in the manuscript. Sure, the literary agent only read the first 5,ooo-words and did not get to the fast-paced, dialogue-driven parts where the characters mistreated each other, got revenge, begged forgiveness, etc., all leading to the tear-infested conclusion but you do not get a second chance after a rejection letter. There is only the next submission. Maybe I will feel different if and when I get my book published, or even hopefully find a literary agent but I have a feeling the same struggle will happen then only over a different set of circumstances.

  43. @Galadriel: Ouch. If nothing else, you have an indelible memory of how awful it is to write solely for what others want!

    @Chuck: I think it’s comforting to remember you’re not in your boat alone. So many authors share that experience – and many of them go on to be very successfully published. Just keep sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing and take joy in that. If the rest of the dream is meant to fall into place, it will, no question.

  44. @Chuck: My publisher told me, soon after signing me, that she loved my fearless approach to submitting. Granted, saying to your (hopefully) future publisher: “I’m willing to do anything to help promote my book, except dancing naked on tables!” doesn’t work for everyone. But what I’m trying to say is, don’t be daunted. Do your own thing. Because you can only be CONVINCED of what you’re doing if you believe in it. And to convince someone else to buy your book, you have to show them first that you believe in it, too. Don’t give up!

  45. Great post — a lot to think about. Thanks.

  46. @Mariam: Spot on!

    @CR: Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  47. I know I shouldn’t worry about it, but I still do. When I’m alone, not so much, but when one of the guys at school is literally reading over my shoulder and stirring me up deliberately, it’s different… then again, they’re doing the stirring-up thing on purpose and should be ignored completely. :p

  48. Coming to a realization of why people are reacting as they are is helpful. If we break down their motivations, we can also figure out why their reactions bother us so much. Half the time, we’ll come to the realization that what they think isn’t so important after all.

  49. Excellent post! I need to follow much of the advice here and “write without looking over my shoulder.”

  50. Telling a writer not to look over her shoulder is sort of like telling someone on the side of a mountain not to look down. They immediately want to look – especially when the voices start screaming from behind. But if we can hold steady and just keep typing, good things will come!

  51. Katie, you are so inspiring! Thank you so much for this post. It was exactly what I needed. I write nonfiction and scholarly books, and as a by-product, academic music texts. I have never received any rejection letters, and I suppose that is due to the genre of writing I have pursued. There are relatively few of us who write academic books as a profession, or sell scholarly works that relate to the general public; rather, most write to maintain or achieve tenure, or to acknowledge a certain school of thought. I’ve never been fearful of not writing well enough. As long as I support my ideas with citations, I can rest assured that my critics, editors, and others will not be disappointed, even if they don’t agree with what I write. My worst fear is that I will not reach the same level that I attained with my first volume, i.e., my readers (mostly music students and professors) will stop wanting to read what I write. My first volume sold over a million copies worldwide in less than four months, then everything just stopped. I just released my second volume, and I can tell from Google searches and Amazon sell-out rates that my second volume isn’t selling near as well as my first volume. I’m not necessarily second guessing myself, but I do wonder about the marketability of my project. Although I have contracts for 7 additional volumes, if I don’t continue selling, they could rescind the contracts. That’s what scares me. When the bar has been set so high, it’s petrifying to think that you might never reach that same level again.

    Your post was very liberating for me. I just have to put these fears behind me and continue writing, continue doing what I love. “Write without looking over your shoulder.” So profound, so true.

  52. Hi K.M.

    This is SUCH a great post about such a crucial issue. Sometimes the only way you’ll move forward is by being brave and biting the bullet. People who dither often make no progress. It is only the bold who step forward.

  53. @LK Watts – exactly right. Fortune favours the bold, as they say, and I have really found it makes a difference to just push on and write what you feel like writing, not what you think a live audience is wanting to read right there and then.

    As for the OP, it’s a great, encouraging post. I often find myself cringing with self-consciousness as I try to imagine how people would react to my own writing, but of course all that does is slow me down and stop the story itself from spilling onto the page. Sometimes we’re just in that kind of mood, though, so I give myself breaks from writing if that’s a problem. I find that by far the most progress is made when I have quiet time to myself and am in a good mood, but for a lot of people that requires the stars to align in a once-a-century event, so it is always worth trying to push through and write even when circumstances are not ideal. Eventually, those circumstances still become comfortable, and getting comfortable is really what’s needed to give yourself permission to express yourself.

  54. J.: Congrats on your successes! It’s important for authors to stay in touch with how the public is receiving their works (by checking sales ranks, etc.), but this can quickly grow counter-productive if we lose track of perspective. In large part, having a book on which to check sales rankings at all is victory enough. When the point comes that checking ranks and reviews brings more grief than practical input, it’s often a better idea to just stop looking – as difficult as that is sometimes!

    @LK: Couldn’t have said it better! You know that old saying about brave men only dying once. It’s true for writers too! If we can live our lives and write our stories to the max, we’ll never have anything to regret, no matter how many copies we sell or how many five-star reviews we get.

    @John: Sometimes it helps to pick just one person – someone honest but open – and write to them. If we can concentrate the faceless myriads of our audiences down to just one person, we can often shut out a lot of the noise.

  55. Thanks for this post!

    This is actually my MAJOR problem. I am always thinking what will people say about my work and about the relationship between my main characters. Sometimes I try and force myself to forget those concerns. I still have to learn to do it all the time.


    M. M. Ballasch

  56. As you can see from the other comments on this post, this is a problem that’s pretty much universal to writers. Those who escape it are a lucky minority. Just think of it as an inner strength-building exercise!

  57. The funny thing is it´s never as bad as you think it will be when you are alone!

  58. True. The worst part of self-consciousness is always the part before anyone else says a thing.

  59. My comment is not exactly about what you meant, but it is related. I have read advice from a very successful author who wrote that we should not write for ourselves, but rather that we should write for our readers. Said author recommends finding the target population of readers, studying what they want to read, and then writing it for them. The advice says we should never write what we want to write and then go looking for a market for it; that is putting the cart in front of the oxen. This author even claims that one of the secrets of very successful writers is that they identify what readers want to read before writing it. What is your opinion about this?

  60. To an extent, I don’t disagree. We’re all writing to an audience, and if we hope to be commercially successful, we have to please that audience.

    But I absolutely disagree with the thought of placing the commercial needs above the artistic ones. If selling books is our highest priority, then, yes, this is a good way to sell genre fiction. But if our priority is instead on creating the best stories we’re capable of creating, we need to be focusing on the art much more than the marketing.

    This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be aware of our audience as we write. If we’re going to upset, anger, or disappoint them with our artistic choices, we should be aware of it and do it as a conscious decision that takes into account the professional ramifications. But, for me, the story always come first. If we write what we love and we write it to the best of our abilities, our audience will find us as much as us finding them.

  61. What a great article! Why do we write? I started out writing something I wanted to read. That’s still there but I do write now with readers in mind. You have described writers– most of us– perfectly. In our little room worrying about others. It takes a lot of courage to forget about what people will think of us.

    Once you go out on a limb and stop the worrying the stories in your mind expand and set you free. I love your attitude and advice!

  62. Of course, there *is* a balance between writing for ourselves and writing to please our audiences. Very few writers totally ignore the desires of their readers. This only becomes a problem when we allow our perceptions of their desires to interfere with our own visions for our stories.

  63. I don’t start caring about what my readers think until after I’m done and have sent it out to my first readers or submitted it to a publication. When I’m writing and editing, I’m on top of the world. Then once the story’s out of my hands I freak out. “Wait, wait, I wasn’t finished, I wasn’t ready! I take it back!!!”

  64. That’s the way to do it! Write for yourself; edit with an eye on improving it for others.

  65. A self-conscious writer spoils her writing by wearing curry stains on her apron. Good writing should look effortless. Nobody needs to know the disaster in the kitchen: the burnt pots, the mayhem, the near breakdown. All your readers want is a fine dining experience. I have learned to “cook” with my heart. When I write to share something larger than myself, others love it too. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog. What a great post. Cheers!

  66. Oh my gosh! I love this. I read the same article in Writer magazine featuring Terry McMillan and her comments ring in my mind with every chapter. But, I’ll admit…it’s a never ending battle. It’s fun to write with abandon. Then, I read a post or article about how it’s vital to write for my audience.

    When I return to the page, revising my first draft quickly turns into a struggle between writing for myself and editing with my audience in mind.

    In your opinion, should a first novel put less emphasis on what the audience wants until working on subsequent novels?

  67. In my opinion, the author’s largest concern for his audience should be quality. Beyond that, if you’re writing a specific genre, you’re going to need to know the guidelines for that genre, so you can either adhere to them or know where you’re deviating from them and, even more importantly, why.

    The first book is wide open, since, at this point, there are no readers to have any expectations whatsoever. The second book only comes with expectations because we’ve set a precedent with the first book. Most authors try to hit the same buttons in the second book as the first, simply because they know what their readers liked.

    But I don’t think it’s any more important to try to please readers in the second book than the first. Just know what they want, so you’ll know the ramifications of choosing something else, should you feel that’s what’s best. Otherwise, just focus on writing the best story you know how and one that you know would appeal to *you* as a reader.

  68. Most of the time I stay true to myself. However, when adult situations occur I often pull the scene back after I’ve written it. That’s something I need to quit doing.

    I’ve started envisioning an ‘ideal reader’ when composing a story now, which is probably just a version of me, sometimes a good friend. And I hear some of my crit partners, “bump it up a notch”. These I feel are good people to have beside the keyboard.

  69. The “ideal reader” is a good person to have over your shoulder. Write to the kind of people you want to read your book, not the kind you don’t.

  70. Yay! Your website loaded fine for me now. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

  71. That’s good news! Thanks for checking it again, Laura.

  72. Anonymous says

    I’m not a writer in the book-writing sense. I’m a songwriter/musician. This advice applies to me, too, though. I just did battle with some recordings and so far I’ve hated everything I’ve tracked so far. Frankly, I reach a point where I give up on one song and move to another. My songs are never finished, and no one hears them.
    So thanks for posting this bit of encouragement. 🙂

  73. I think this is true no matter the art form. In art, whatever the medium, we’re laying ourselves bare – and that’s always scary!

  74. I love your statement that we should “write from deep and honest well” of ourselves. It makes me realize that I’m only tapping the shallow waters of my well as long as I limit myself to what others approve or accept. Seeking other’s approval is like wearing a life jacket while swimming off the shores of Key West (something I did recently). It’s really hard work to experience those depths. By casting aside all concerns and sinking deep down, I think that writing that is much more satisfying and much more “me” will surface. Thank you.

  75. Fabulous metaphor! To flip it on its head, others’ opinions (or what we think may be their opinions) are weights holding us down. It’s a whole lot easier to move forward successfully once we’ve shed the extra weight.

  76. “Write with abandon”- love that!

    Come by and leave me a comment!

  77. Now if only we can make a habit of it!

  78. I used to be afraid of what people would think about my writing, but once you get something published, it builds your confidence. Just keep going. Keep doing it. After a while it won’t even enter your head. I used to write my erotica under a pen name, in fact, but I abandoned that long ago.

  79. I’ve actually found it to be the opposite – after publication the pressure is really on to please others. It was way easier to write for myself before anyone else had read what I’d written!

  80. @teabuddy: I just noticed your comment got hung up in the spam guard. Sorry about that! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  81. Hi, I was recently stuck on this topic, the story I have begun is based on my friend , who was a child during the Bosnian war. I was stuck on the fact of being factually true to what happened , within the hearts of the children,. But then i realised, that would not happen unless I interview her., so I feel I am doing the book justice., I can only put the emotion of my own childhood and others, a child’s vulnerability at the hands at a adult, and that is the essence of the story. I guess I was probably spending too much time on the genre I am writing.

  82. You’ve no doubt heard the maxim to “write what you know.” You may not have lived through the same war-torn childhood as your friend, but you *do* know about being a child. And, at the end of the day, the emotions are the foundation for all the facts.

  83. Wonderful post! Self-doubt can stilt the work of any writer, and listening to the voices of others’ in our heads is the quickest way to start doubting ourselves. I think every writer struggles with this. (I know I do.)

  84. To some extent, I suppose we could say the self-doubt is good, since it keeps us honest (and, hopefully, humble). But a little goes a long way. Once it becomes crippling, it does none of us any good.

  85. Anonymous left a comment about seizing up when sending out a piece for critique. Having received two critiques today, I can relate. The thing to remember is that critical reads are helping you to improve your writing. Imagine all the changes a book undergoes before it actually gets into print, then all the changes it undergoes if made into a flick. Any creative needs input from others. I’m fortunate to have a handful of thoughtful critique partners whose input helps improve my writing. On another note who would want to read anything written self-indulgently? Any publisher will want to know what your piece does for the audience. If it doesn’t do anything, it’s a journal entry, no?

    Cheers to all of us self-conscious writers.


  86. Criticism is a necessary evil. How much better to have a few hard-hitting criticisms early on, rather than numerous rejections or bad reviews later? We just have to take a deep breath, absorb the pain, and move forward toward a stronger story.

  87. Its more about learning how to ignore judgement from others who themselves can’t even write a manuscript. My own aunt assumes I have not written anything because I refuse to show her anything before the first draft is finished. But then she asks me to summarize and pitch it to her before I’m finished. Are professional editors this demanding and hard headed?

  88. If we can survive our well-meaning friends relations, we’re likely to be able to to survive the most curmudgeonly of editors!

  89. I’ve sort of found such editor, though he’s more of a comics editor. (I was originally considering a graphic novel.) Turns out the guy actually already lost business to a few other people as well. I found a book on writing therapy for writers as well. Maybe this will be helpful.

    For me its not knowing how to write, but being able to sit down and make myself write, when it seems like the readers is ready to hate your work. I should just write for myself.D:

  90. Definitely. If you’re not writing primarily for yourself, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If you write for yourself, it doesn’t matter so much if others don’t like what you’re doing. When they do, it’s just gravy!

  91. I loved this writing about letting yourself tap what is within you. I think most of us starting out do worry about what others will think, and it is so funny that you mentioned those spirits…I will call them sitting around by the keyboard….I think they have a big influence over many of our decisions and I liked that you asked for us to dismiss them!! Good advice.

  92. I envision them as ugly little gargoyles, cackling away. They usually have a bowl of popcorn to share as they sit there being entertained. 😉

  93. I loved this!
    I’m an English teacher and I see this kind of writer-personality type all the time.
    I thought this was really insightful and I actually linked it in my blog “Writing The Perfect First Blog Post” – which you can find here:
    Hopefully people who read this and lean towards the self-conscious side will be inspired to push through it and get writing!

  94. Gift of ourselves? That is a fun approach…

  95. onewordtest (@oneword_test) says

    Ha, I’m pretty sure sometimes I write just to spite the theoretical audience who would want me to write something else.

  96. Norman Dalgetti says

    I have bookmarked your excellent post for when I need encouragement, or to remind me to stay on track. My problem, which I finally figured out, is that I have been fighting my natural inclination. I kept putting aside stories that were going well because a mystery voice told me they were not “exciting”. I thought (wrongly?) that I needed to write something with suspense, danger, and multiple deaths. You know – bloke stuff.

    All such attempts proved to be a chore and sounded hollow to my own ears. I have to conclude this is not what I’m good at. When words pour unhindered from brain to page, creating scenarios that really light my torch, powered by the joy of writing, my stories are nothing like the works of Frederick Forsyth or Stephen King.

    I finally have to accept the truth about myself. The honest produce of my mind is most like . . . Anita Brookner!

    Strange but true, so that’s what I shall go back to writing. Drama of the soul, damsels in emotional distress, a world in which nobody gets gunned down or eaten alive. It’s a risky business for an introspective novel can get boring real fast, if it doesn’t have that magical ingredient that keeps you reading.

    I would be interested if anyone else has experienced this “fighting yourself” problem. Perhaps a little old lady trying to resist becoming the next Shaun Hutson.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think any author who is interested in commercial success fights this battle, on some level or another, at one time or another. My metric is always: Is this the book I’d most like to read? If not, I don’t write it.

      • Norman Dalgetti says

        Thank you so much for your kind (and prompt!) reply. Your post really is good and puts the whole “self-conscious” thing into perspective. I guess the simplest advice of all is always “to thine own self be true”.

  97. im not gonna waste my time reading this because the title “why self conscious writers are doomed” already ruined it and made me not want to write anymore! Way to make people feel hopeless! Are you trying to stop people from feeling self conscious? youve already done the opposite! <3 <3 <3

  98. I so needed this today! Thanks for the great post! It reminds me again why I write and that I write for me, not anyone else. I’ve been fighting this war of insecurity ever since I know my first novel will be published! But I love that story with all my heart and I just hope other people will love it too.

  99. I WISH I had read this several years ago. My mother saw one of my manuscripts. (The rest, I hope, will never been seen by her!) She was thrilled that I finally showed some trace of talent, but she critiqued it to death and even told me that I don’t know my own characters. So it started feeling more like HER work and not my own. Then my brother and sister-in-law found out. They rolled their eyes at the very idea of me pursuing my dream. The lack of support is crushing. The people who are supported to be your biggest supporters would rather see you remain working at the hot warehouse down the road. I’ve paralyzed for years, but this post makes me want to revive the dream.

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