This week I am writing about the insecurities and fears I deal with as a writer turned author and the ever-present voice that pushes my writing into privacy rather than into the public domain. How do I stay afloat when squalls of doubt tucked within storms of rage crash against my shattered vessel of dwindling hope? It’s not easy, but it’s possible…
Ever since I can remember I’ve loved writing. Poetry, songs, lists, letters, short stories, long stories, columns, interviews, dialogue, settings, character sketches, and more. I love sitting with a blank page and a black pen while steaming black coffee waits within reach. I love storytelling and trying to make ordinary people into immortal beings and ordinary life into history. I love writing playful prose about dogs that talk to birds, and potent poetry about addiction, violence, and fatherlessness. While I have always been a writer, I still find it very, VERY challenging to share my writing with others. So how the hell did a doubtful man like me take the leap from writer to author?
Just to paint the picture, here is a pattern of circulating thoughts that beat me down daily. Maybe you can relate?
“I don’t have a story to tell that is any different than anybody else’s… I am not smart enough to be an author… I don’t have time to write a book… I have a shitty vocabulary, poor grammar skills, and an inability to be concise… There will be mistakes that people will notice and they’ll talk shit about me… I am not social enough to be in the writer’s circles, so I’ll never get the support I need… Why am I wasting time on useless stuff when I should be getting a real job that pays? Real men don’t write, they cut down trees, kill things, build stuff, and do labor… People are judging me as a sissy… Your military comrades consider you a sell-out… You are a spy… You have too many chores… Don’t waste your time… Your kids are too demanding… You were rejected by hundreds of agents and publishers because you suck… You’re a self-published author, and you know what that means, nobody else thought your writing was worth a damn— so you had to publish it yourself.”
And last, but probably the loudest voice in my head, shouts, “You can’t tell that story because it’s going to hurt somebody’s feelings and make somebody look bad.”
Every day I deal with these voices. The same voices kept Warflower as a hidden document on a computer for fifteen years before being self-published and read by thousands worldwide, despite the grammar errors. The same voice hides a collection of poetry deep within hidden folders on my computer in terror of being judged as a shitty poet and shallow dude. So how the hell does a foul-mouthed, anxious, non-intellectual like me set these doubtful voices aside? I don’t. I repeat, I don’t. Sometimes the voices shout, other times they whisper, but they are always there. Despite their chorus, I still write, and while I write, I remember to have fun. Isn’t that why I started writing back in grade school? Because it was so much fun!
While most people dread sitting down with a blank canvas to let their imagination run wild, I have more fun writing random imaginary stories than doing almost anything else. I turn off the critical mind while writing by hand, and turn it on later during revisions. This allows me to tap into the weird wanderings of the subconscious, heart, and God. Hell, I don’t know the inner workings of it, but I know this- it keeps me from having writer’s block and from only writing a few pages every few months due to a hypercritical eye.
When I am done writing, I think about how far I have come from the angry, drunk, guilt-ridden war veteran back in 2012 to the sometimes angry, sober, self-forgiven war veteran of 2023, and I know that writing has been the main medicine. I am more honest when I write than when I talk to my counselor, best friends, family, and God. Because I view my writing as both a therapy and a playtime, and I need both to live a happy life.
Am I always happy? Hell no! Ask my wife about my attitude this week… Or don’t, let’s keep it hush-hush… But I know I’d be a lot worse off if I didn’t write on a regular basis, and have a best-friend/spouse who knows the importance of writing for my mental health.
Now being an author and a writer are different things, and while most authors are writers not every writer is an author. So how do I have the courage, or audacity, to share my work with the public and ask them to pay me? Well, I finally see the value in my story and style, and I know how hard I have worked to fine-tune my craft, and I believe that I should be paid for my work. That was a big step in the battle against the inner chorus. Nonetheless, just because I am an Alaskan author does not mean I am on the cover of Poets and Writers Magazine or treated as a Guest of Honor at a 49 Writers event or asked to teach classes at the local college or to be a guest speaker at a conference. I highly doubt the Alaska writer’s community will ever have a raw, self-published writer as the Alaska Writer Laureate to represent our state. (Is that my self-doubt creeping in?) I may be an author, but I am still a nobody in the writer’s community, and that is okay. Maybe in time this will change, maybe not, but it will not stop me from writing the next blog or book to share with the public.
Since Warflower was published in June of 2022, I have done one book signing and one book reading. That’s not a lot! Some of it has to do with being self-published and being my own publicist. I am trying to find a balance between writing the next book and promoting and advertising the first book, and it’s not easy. But the main reason I haven’t done more readings or signings is due to one word: FEAR. “What if I show up to a signing or reading and nobody is there? What if there’s a bunch of people there? What if people ask…? What if people correct… in public…?” The list of “what ifs” could fill a Stephen King novel. It’s tough to get over that wall, but hey, progress not perfection, right?
To turn down the voices, I go online every day to see a picture of my book for sale and it validates me as an author. And even though I just received my first 1-star rating on Amazon, I understand that I will not please everybody, nor do I want to. I couldn’t finish Lolita no matter what the critics say! When I enter my home library, a copy of my book is on the shelf next to the greats. My wife insists that my writing is making a difference in people’s lives, and even though I hardly believe her, I have received hand-written letters, emails, messages, phone calls, and face-to-face compliments from people who claim that my book touched their hearts. And because of this, I tell myself every day, “I am an author, I am an author, I am an author.” And maybe eventually, when somebody asks me what I do for a living, I will say, “I am an author.”
In the meantime, I will continue to work as a writer because I wholeheartedly believe that bottling up our thoughts, regrets, and worries often leads to isolation, depression, and suicide. And I have a lot to live for, and a story to tell.
And so do you! So start writing those stories and turn off the inner chorus of critics!