Why Self-Conscious Writers Are Doomed

Who do you write for? At first glance, that may seem like a silly question—or even a question that doesn’t need answering at all. But it’s one worth not just thinking about, but focusing on every single day. Chances are your first-blush answer to the question will agree with the spot-on declaration left by Mariam Kobras (author of The Distant Shore) on her Facebook page a few weeks ago:

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.

The ugly truth about whom we’re writing for

But chances are also good that answer isn’t quite true for you. 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 husbands/wives, our co-workers, 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. And the moment this 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

Now, admittedly, writing for yourself is way yonder 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 saw 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!

Tell me your opinion: Do you worry about how others will judge your writing?

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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. 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

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