On Writer Shyness // Why We Don’t Want People to Read Our Work

Today, I’m discussing something that impacts my life on a daily basis: why I hate sharing my writing.

As a writer, my goal is to publish my work.  The thought of holding my book, flipping through its pages and knowing that readers around the world are doing the very same, quite literally gets me out of bed in the morning.  I’ve structured my life thus far in an effort to achieve this goal: it’s why I attended the high school I attended, why I took the classes I took, why I chose my university over other institutions.  It’s why you’d be hardpressed to find me without a book on my person, why I plaster the walls of my dorm with sticky notes covered in quotes by famous authors.  I look at my walls and hope that one day, I’ll be just like them.

Simultaneously, I can be painfully introverted.  For someone who loves words as much as I do, speaking, or even the thought of speaking, makes my palms sweat.  Occasions like department open houses or sorority recruitment or even saying “hi” to a friend in the dining hall can produce a feeling of fear, a nasty lack of control.

It all comes down to control.  When writing, I can revise and edit and tweak and perfect until I’m content with my work.  Sloppy writers who fail to correct their grammar mistakes or write solely in run-on sentences don’t get A’s on their papers or see their stories published in The New Yorker, so we learn early in our lives of the perfectibility of our writing.  We control what goes on the page; we are the masters of our stories.

Verbal speech isn’t so forgiving.  The words that come out of our mouths are immortalized in the memories of the people around them of us regardless of our intentions.  We don’t get to correct our run-ons or rephrase for clarity in the midst of a conversation, try as we might.  We control what we say, but we can’t control what happens after our words leave our mouths; there are no take-backs.

This uncontrollable aspect of speaking aloud is what makes publishing, a thing that is supposed to be benevolent and exciting, a terrifying endeavor.  Sending work out into the world possesses the same lack of control that comes with speech.  We intimately know what goes on inside our stories, and then we share them and hope for the best.  We have a story all for ourselves while we write it, and then we put it in the hands of others, and it’s not ours anymore.  The story belongs to the people who read it, and there is a threshold that cannot be uncrossed once you share your writing.

This phenomenon doesn’t only apply to the lucky and cursed few who have the opportunity to see their work in print.  It applies to the students like me, the writers who’ve existed in the confines of their bedroom or favorite spot in the library (I always liked to sit by the windows), drafting story after story with the understanding that maybe these words will be read someday.  And then university happens, and creative writing classes happen, and workshops happen.

Workshops are not for the faint of heart.  Despite any positive intentions, listening to a room of intelligent, well-read people rip your work to shreds and dance on the remains is challenging.  It requires a level of restraint that prevents you from interjecting your thoughts into the dialogue, correcting a course that doesn’t need correction.  I’ve sat through several workshops for my writing, gritting my teeth as my classmates got their interpretations entirely wrong.  It was painful to hold myself back, but these experiences teach me that fault doesn’t lie in the reader, but in the writer.  If my peers don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s because I didn’t say it clear enough.

Contrary to initial belief, these experiences have caused my growth as a writer to skyrocket.  I’ve never left a workshop afraid to edit a piece, and am always eager to get back into the fray and track my improvement.  Sharing my work in this way gives me a new level of incentive for which I consistently want to work.

And, in a roundabout way, I think this represents why we need to share our writing, even when we don’t want to do so.  Putting ourselves and our work on the line is an act of extreme vulnerability, but one that is entirely necessary to grow as writers and as people.  If we can expose our writing to the world and let the world tell us its strengths and weaknesses, we are committing an act of bravery that stands only to better us.

There’s a particular amount of fear in sharing, and I think there should be.  Like I said, this is vulnerable, uncomfortable work that requires a thick skin and perhaps a good, solid pillow to punch.  But we as creators can and should release our content with an understanding that our fear is often misguided, and our audiences critique not because our art is bad, but because it can be so much better.

So share.  Overshare.  Obnoxiously promote your art and artistry, and appreciate any comments that make their way back to you.  Place your work in the hands of others not in spite of fear, but because of it.  Because taking these steps will only make you better at what you love most.

What are your thoughts on writer shyness?

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10 thoughts on “On Writer Shyness // Why We Don’t Want People to Read Our Work

  1. This is the bane of my existence. Every time I publish, I’m wracked by self doubt and the certainty that the words that I love so much will be a disaster in someone else’s eyes. It’s far too easy to allow that fear to paralyze me, and my work has been delayed on more than one occasion due to my fear that it wouldn’t be well received.
    The truth is that no matter how much you polish and revise (and that should be a lot, not suggesting otherwise) there will always be those who didn’t see what you were trying to show. Everyone is different and comes to your book with a unique mindset and worldview and set of tastes and interests that your book may or may not satisfy.
    That understanding doesn’t make it easier to share, (or handle your emotions after a negative review or critique), but it does held in understanding human nature, and there’s nothing more important for a writer than that.
    Good luck to you on all your writing endeavors. Coming from a fellow introvert, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you will learn to cope better. 😁

  2. Tweeting this and bookmarking it. It is not easy to put yourself out there, but it helps to know that there are others who are willing to support and encourage each other just for trying.

  3. I don’t think I’ll ever completely eradicate self-doubt when writing/publishing, worrying about what people with think, if I’ll make mistakes, which are unavoidable things – but like you say, it is done as a way to learn how to be better, how to improve, and that should be a thing that’s celebrated.

  4. Wonderful post and so true. I have suffered shyness all my life,and the thought of letting people read my work fills me with dread. That said in a few weeks time I am hoping to use beta readers for the first time. I have to overcome this one day if I’m to meet my goals! xx