“A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am naked.
Here in front of you, I’m sitting in my reading chair in the living room of my apartment unfettered by the clothes that cover my original form. The breeze brushes over my exposed skin, cooling and comforting me. But I am not nude (you dirty bird), I am naked in my vulnerability, writing openly, passionately, and honestly to you (always have, to be honest). But doubly naked I am when you read my words, since it is not just the content of what I write that exposes me, but also the pressing of that button at the top of my WordPress page called Publish that exposes me as well. Just that fact that it’s here for you now, as part of this “willfully in public” phase, that reminds me that this the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced in my journey as a writer.
I still want to be Emily Dickinson, on my darker days. I want to write and write and write, speaking my mind and my heart and my spirit with no thought to the consequences or to the readers since I won’t be alive to hear their critiques. My work will be found in a box under my bed and I will be gone, deaf to their judgments. But this is absurd. This is fearful and this is childish and this is silly because I know that with every day that passes that I’m not working on something to publish or submit is another day wasted.
Listen: once you finish something, you can’t wrap it around you like a quilt in the summer; it will stifle you and eventually smother you. You must unfurl it and let it drop from you, and let it be taken in the hands and in the eyes of the people of the world. You must reveal it for all of its faults in its stitching, all the mistakes you felt were there, and through all of this, be proud of what you’ve created. The world will see it for what it is for them, this is true, and they will judge you for it as such. Let them. Let them, and publish anyway. There’s a reason why we call it ‘submitting’ our work, since we give it up freely to the world, to smart people and petty people and hateful people and loving people. Just don’t submit submit to the people who judge it, you get it? We submit to that higher need to communicate, to open up ourselves, to relate and understand each other. Publishing our work, no matter what it is, begins a dialogue, and if done correctly, can be a wonderful exchange of ideas and thoughts. But even if it isn’t, talking about something is better than not talking about it (ask any therapist). This is why the first part of the equation is just as important as the second–first you write about something that makes you naked in your vulnerability, and second you do the actual act of submitting it.
But we’re all so frightened to speak our hearts and minds, so afraid of being judged, that we choose not to write, or to write and not submit, or, if we do write, to tell a good story instead of a great one. And what’s the difference between a good and a great story?
Risk. Taking the risk in the content you’ve written, but also taking the risk in the audience who will be reading it.
Every day I struggle with not being afraid anymore to face my true fear, which is a fear that we all share: the fear of success. And I post this as a message as a call to all of you men and women out there bundled up in your fear, in your self-doubt, and in that negative story line we tell ourselves every time we make something we’re proud of and suddenly back away–
Write something that you never, ever thought you would, and show it to your group!
Write something simply honest and truthful, and then post it online!
Write something that cuts right through the bullshit and submit it to a magazine!
Don’t be afraid of being wrong or looking like a dork!
Create and Complete.
Have a great day! (I’m gonna put on some clothes, it’s getting chilly.)
And here’s a little vid to help you get in the mood.