Just a few weeks ago, one of my best friends came over to my apartment to spend the night. “Hey, check out that book over there,” my boyfriend told her. “And pay attention to the table of contents.”
I wanted to crawl under a rock.
And never come out.
See, what my friend—let’s call her A—would find in that table of contents would be my name. That, and a story I wrote. A story I wrote that got published. In a real life book.
And for some reason, nothing seemed worse than having somebody I love read it.
It’s not that it’s a bad story. As far as short stories go, it’s pretty decent, I think. And it’s not that I’m not proud of it. Of course I am. I’ve wanted to be published in a real, tangible book since I was about twelve years old. Plus, all proceeds for that book go to a really great cause (The Not For Sale Campaign against human trafficking, which you can find at notforsale.org).
But I, like many other artists of all kinds, am often afraid to share my work with the world.
So what is the problem, you ask?
At the time, I didn’t know. Now, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the subject, and I’ve come up with a few theories.
Maybe I am afraid of criticism
I don’t think I’m necessarily afraid of criticism. I’ve attended several writing workshops and critiques—during college, after college—and I know I can take the heat. Sure, I’ve been nervous to read my work nearly every time, but it’s always worth it. I’ve left each workshop with great, helpful advice from fellow writers, and if there’s anything I’ve learned from writing workshops, it’s that I can write.
I just can always get a little bit better at it.
Maybe I am afraid I’m not good enough
This sounds more like it. It seems that all of my life, I’ve had this nagging feeling in the bottom of my gut, a nagging feeling that whispers in my ear, “You’re not good enough.” I hear those four little words whenever I do something I really care about (for example, I was an internationally competitive gymnast as a kid. Every time I placed second or third—or worse, didn’t place at all—this tiny voice would remind me that I’d never be enough, whatever that means). This obviously stems from a bunch of issues—mostly, I think, a secretly unstable childhood.
In my heart, though, I know I’m a good writer, or at least a decent one. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have been published in the first place. So I have to remember to always trust this gut instinct instead.
Maybe I am afraid the people I love won’t get it
For the longest time, it felt like the only truly honest part of myself was on page—what I wrote. Everything else about my life seemed like a giant farce. To an extent, I think that my writing is still a super raw part of me. And because I am sometimes shy, or afraid, or anxious, or stressed, hiding that rawness—the bit of me that can get really hurt—is my first defense.
But how can I allow people to really get to know me if I won’t show them what’s most real about myself? If they don’t like it, then that’s a separate issue—and not something that should worry me.
Good enough? Good enough for what, and for whom?
I often get the sense that artists of every kind (writers, painters, dancers, sculptors, singers, etc.) feel that they are not ready to show their work because they are afraid it’s “not good enough.” I am no exception, but here’s the thing: there will always be another thing to edit, another brushstroke to add.
So if you want to show your work (because it’s perfectly acceptable to create a masterpiece and want to keep it to yourself), then show it. That’s all there is to it. Some people won’t like it; a lot of people probably will.
I know that somewhere inside me, I want to show my work. Otherwise, my goal wouldn’t be to publish a novel. I wouldn’t even submit my work anywhere if I didn’t. And next time I—or you—worry that I’m not good enough, I have to remember this: there is no wrong or right way to express yourself, no wrong way to do art, as long as it comes from the heart.
Whether someone else will think it’s not good enough is irrelevant.
Debbie Lechtman is a writer based in Austin, TX (after moving around a bunch of cool cities and countries). She currently works as an editor and is trying to start a jewelry business. Besides writing short stories and reading a million books, she enjoys going on joy rides on her bike, being a huge rock nerd, discussing the wonders of the universe, and loving on her little mutt, Simba.
Vintage Typewriter image courtesy of Shutterstock