Thursday, June 13, 2013

Are You Ashamed of Your Writing? by Karin Gillespie

 Shame is a trendy emotion right now. Brene Brown did a hugely popular TED talk on it. Oprah’s been bandying it about. People are buzzing about it on social media. Certainly I’ve had my share of shameful moments, mostly in my twenties, but until recently I hadn’t given shame much thought. 

A week ago I started re-reading the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and suddenly I realized that for years, shame and I have been constant companions; I wasn’t aware of it because I’d been numbing it.      
Cameron reminded me that writing (or any type of art) is often associated with heaps of shame. It begins when you’re taking the first baby steps to owning your identity as a writer. At first, you don’t want to say it out loud to anyone, because the next question is always, “Where have you been published?”

 And, of course, if you aren’t published, then time spent writing feels shameful. People feel free to interrupt you because it’s not like you’re doing anything important. They look upon writing as a luxury akin, to sitting around eating Cheeze whip and Ritz crackers and watching the Kardashsians.   

The shame doesn’t stop when you’re finally published. Some reviewers act personally affronted by your efforts and have no reservations about publically shaming you. “I’ll never get those six hours of my life back” they say, as if you’d been holding a gun to their heads while they read your work.

Shame can also come during royalty check time. Very few authors have not experienced the pain of selling below expectations.  Shame will also sweep in if you’re in a transitional period and haven’t sold anything lately.

And perhaps most painful of all, people will occasionally shame you for what you’re writing. If you’re a genre writer, you might be shamed for writing junk If you’re a literary writer, your navel-gazing is subject to attack. Even people close to you will sometimes shame you. A friend once said to me, “I’m waiting for you to write the serious book I know you’re capable of.”

Recently I got some insight into the reason for all this art-associated shame. I was talking to a friend named Billy  about a mutual acquaintance, who is a beginner painter.  Billy was complaining about our friend because she refused to help him move one Saturday. She told him Saturdays were her painting day.

“She’s just a dilettante, pretending to be Georgia O’Keefe,” Billy said. “Like it would kill her to take one day to help me out.”
And that’s when it hit me. Bully, I mean Billy, has always been a frustrated artist. Sadly for him, he’s never pursued his creative impulses because he claims he doesn’t have time. That’s a convenient and common excuse for blocked artists but the real reason Billy doesn’t paint is because he can't bear the idea of being a less than perfect painter and perhaps falling on his face a few times.  

The truth is, people who are happily creating art don’t have time or the inclination to shame other artists. They know that creating art is our birthright; it’s as a natural as breathing, sleeping and loving, and all efforts have validity.                 
It’s the creatively frustrated people who delight in the shame game. It’s as if they are saying, ‘How dare you make art when I’m going through so much artistic turmoil?” On some level they hope they can shame us enough so we quit creating, and then they won’t feel as uncomfortable.

 As long as there are blocked artists, shame isn’t going away. The only thing we can do is change our reactions to it. It seems so obvious but it took me years to learn that when someone shamed me, I didn’t have to internalize it. 


  1. I love this post! Shame is exactly what I felt the first time someone attacked my debut novel as, "just a Harlequin." I tried explaining: "I'm with MIRA, which is the literary commercial division of Harlequin. I don't write romance." But now I just smile and say, "Yup. I love being a Harlequin MIRA author." Which is true. I don't have to buy into other people's prejudice. :)

  2. I love this post! Shame is exactly what I felt the first time someone attacked my debut novel as, "just a Harlequin." I tried explaining: "I'm with MIRA, which is the literary commercial division of Harlequin. I don't write romance." But now I just smile and say, "Yup. I love being a Harlequin MIRA author." Which is true. I don't have to buy into other people's prejudice. :)

  3. Oh, Karin! This post is so wonderful!! How it hit home.

    I once dated a guy who asked me why I didn't write serious books. Is it any wonder I instead ending up marrying a guy who thinks everything I write is amazing?!

    I love how you say that we have to be prepared to fall on our faces a few times. It's true! And at the end of the day, I'm so glad to be doing what I love. Thanks for this reminder!!

    1. Amen to that, Brenda! So important to marry a man who would lasso the moon for you!

  4. What a terrific post, Karin. My heart broke when I read your friend's insensitive comment, along with Barbara's and Brenda's comments. I have a friend who gave me a Pulitzer Prize-winning literary novel, telling me this is what I should be writing. Let's just continue to happily create, ladies!

  5. This is exactly how I feel. People talk about writing as if it is an easy job, something that is not important. Now that you've mentioned this, I realize I do have a lot of shame where my writing is concerned. Sometimes I feel that I'm not a worthy writer or that I'm wasting my time with writing, but honestly, writing is like breathing to me. If I didn't write, I would drown in my own emotions. Thanks for this amazing post!

  6. Barbara,
    I'm sorry about that. And I'm glad you're not buying in. I'm just recently learning not to do that.
    Brenda, sounds like you married the right guy! Thanks for your sweet words. Lori, it's amazing how common this shame thing is. I'm sure every writer has experienced it one form or another.
    Arty girl, once I realized I had shame it really helped me to overcome it. I'm glad my post resonated with you.

  7. Oh, Karin, you're going to rattle a lot of cages (in a good way) with this post! Writers' shame follows me still, like a certain relative who wants to know which character I am in Beautiful Disaster and another friend who can't mention the book without making a snide reference to its love scenes! I just want to say, "Get over it! Did you never hear of sex before you read it?" Ugh. You go, girl!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I have internalized so many of the criticisms you mentioned--no one even has to say it to me, because I hear it in my head. This is exactly what I needed to hear right now.

  9. You had me at Brene Brown. I LOVE her TED talks and I love this post. I still struggle with calling myself a writer since I don't have a published BOOK. I've had lots of stories published, but still no book. Gotta get past that.

  10. Excellent post, Karin. Very helpful!

  11. Wow, Karin. I loved this. So true. And I too need to re-read The Artist's Way. Love that photo of that man by the way.

  12. Awesome post, Karin. A lot of aha! moments for me while I was reading it. :)

  13. Wonderful post! I refuse to apologize for writing romance novels. I refuse to apologize for reading and loving them too!

  14. Late to the party, Karin! Great post. Soooo true.

  15. Great post, Karin (and nice to meet you!). I wrote for twenty years, on and off (mostly on) before I had an agent, and a couple more before a contract, so I experienced many instances of unpublished writer shame. I learned to resist it. Now I'm sitting in that limbo between contract and publication (debut hits shelves August 6), and haven't yet experienced the broad reader and reviewer reactions to one of my stories. Your post helps prepare me.

  16. Great post, Karin. I'm not sure how much shame I feel, but often feel disappointment that I can't seem to find the right mix to tackle writing, promoting and mothering.

  17. I do not ashamed of my writing and I do not know why should I? There has some people who write some unethical thing,they should have been ashamed of it. visit the website to know more how to get quality writing services.

  18. Absolutely its perfectly fine to start your writing with shameful step because first step in writing is a baby step indeed.You can read more how to turn this first baby step into an immaculate journey of success.