Being self conscious

Continuing my occasional series about the dangers and pitfalls that lurk waiting to derail of a writer’s career, here I give a passing mention to writerly self-consciousness, an aspect of creative endeavour that we often overlook.  (I don’t want to make it self-conscious by making too much of it, but it deserves a passing glance, because its effects can be far-reaching.)

Being self-conscious as a writer is absolutely fatal to the process of creation.  Like a pianist who plays all the right notes in all the right order but plays them mechanically – without a shred of emotion – the resulting material can be disappointing.  Sorry, but it’s true.

Perhaps more than most, I have reason to want to hide away from the wide world, to hide from the glare of public scrutiny the stack of apparent disappointments (okay then, ‘learning opportunities’) that, until relatively recently, appeared to make up most of my life.  Certainly, if I were overly self-conscious about my failings, I would still be sitting, stuck in that window seat over there, having writing nothing, trapped in a dark world clouded by fear and almost crippling silence.

Writing about life, happiness, progress, what it means to be happy and how to manage the tricksier aspects of sexual intimacy leaves no place to hide, and if even for a moment I gave in to embarrassment, I would probably pack everything in and take up a job as a desk clerk.  I’ve been very tempted.  But gradually, the pain and fear of exposure to ridicule dissipates and I learn to stand my ground.  As we must all do, if we have any hope of writing well.


Writing anything, we best follow the advice of Margaret Atwood,

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand…”

Which feels, occasionally, a bit bizarre.  There’s me, the social person called Fran who eats, sleeps and relates to others.  There’s Fran the writer who invents characters and gives them life and things to say to each other.  And here’s Fran who has to assume she has never read, seen or created anything – a process of learned ignorance which is useful when it comes to re-reading our work, but which also helps us to be clear, honest and authentic.  It’s not a guarantee – there are none! – but it helps me to write.

Thanks for reading.


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