I am a reformed closet writer. When I began writing, I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband. It took more than a year for me to tell my close family and friends. After that, it took another year and a half for me to share this news publicly. Why is it that so many writers want to keep this passion a secret?
I know I’m not alone in this. When I attended my first writing workshop I met several people who confided in me that their families didn’t know they were participating. Their writing was still a secret. I completely understood, because I’ve been there, but this made me question WHY we do this.
Why We Write In Secret
If you tell a friend you have decided to take up playing the guitar, there is no expectation that you will be good at it as soon as you pick up the instrument. Your friend will not ask when they can expect to attend your first public performance. There is likely no expectation of performing in public at all. However, if you tell someone you have decided to write a book, there can be an expectation of someday getting to read your published book. This can put a lot of extra pressure on new writers.
The truth is, most debut novels that we see on bookshelves are not the author’s first attempt. One poll of over 200 authors found that the majority wrote at least 3 full books before getting traditionally published. (This statistic is somewhat discouraging for someone like me who is just starting out, but it’s also a good reminder to never give up.)
It seems easier to write your first (or second or third) novel without telling anyone, so that you never set up these expectations to begin with. I used to fantasize about getting a book deal before telling anyone I was writing. Ha! As if I could keep a secret for that long…
Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is very real, especially among writers. When faced with the prospect of failing in private or failing in public, most of us would choose to fail in private. To be clear, I don’t mean writing a book that never gets published. See above – that happens even with very successful writers. For me, failure would be to announce to the world (which I’ve done) that I’m going to write a novel, and then never actually write one. I worry about this on a regular basis.
Having someone read something that you’ve written is an intensely personal thing. I often compare it to walking into a room naked. You are completely exposed, and are being judged. It is something that I’m not sure I will ever get used to. In some ways, you are showcasing how you see the world. Whenever I read scathing reviews of books now, I cringe for the poor authors that might see them. While you’re still a closet writer, and your manuscripts are safely tucked away in your notebook or computer, you never have to face this vulnerability and potential criticism.
Why We SHOULDN’T Write In Secret
Finding Your Cheerleaders
When you do ‘come out of the closet’, you might be amazed at the support you get from friends and family. I was. Having people around you who are excited about your writing will automatically make you more excited too. And when you feel like giving up, you will have a group of cheerleaders to get you back on your feet. You might even find one or two closet writers lurking in your circle of friends! (You never know where we’re hiding…)
The flip side of being afraid to fail in public is that once you tell everyone you are going to write a book, you become even more motivated to do so. There is built-in accountability because you don’t want to go back on your word.
Connecting with other writers who are going through the same challenges as you is SO important. Since I don’t know a lot of writers in person, I have turned to Twitter and Scribophile and have made a lot of connections that way. It makes you feel less alone, and you can learn so much from these writing communities. If I was still a closet writer, I would have missed out on a lot of great opportunities for networking. Put yourself out there, and good things will happen!
After sharing my writing pursuits with others, I felt more like a real writer. By setting up a webpage, Facebook page, etc. I consequently started taking my writing more seriously. If we want to succeed, we need to remind ourselves that this is not just a silly hobby. We need to carve time out from our days – even our busy ones – to make our dreams a reality. As a mom working full-time, this is easier said than done. But it’s not quite as hard as it was before I went public.
Have you ever pursued a passion but kept it a secret? How come?