Writing What Scares You
I have written a few essays lately, inspired by the lovely and talented writers Jordan Rosenfeld, Rachel Thompson and Lillian Ann Slugocki, that scared the bejeebers out of me. Actually, the work scared me even more than that, but I’m trying to be polite. And what I’ve discovered is that it’s harder than I ever thought to put certain words and experiences down on paper. But it also feels better than I expected to have done so.
I’ve had a couple of stories in my mind for many years that I thought, “Someday I will write that down. Someday, I’ll put that on paper and everyone will read it and know how I feel.”
Truth of the matter is, “someday” took a very long time to get here – decades. Twenty, thirty years, even. Why did it take so long? What held me back? Fear, of course – and not just nerves: “I wonder if I can do justice to this topic?” Not just, “Am I the best writer for this, or who wants to hear my story anyway?” I’m talking post-traumatic stress disorder-level fear. Terror. Panic attacks. Insomnia.
Gut-spilling is utterly demoralizing. When you, as a writer, make yourself vulnerable by writing something dear to your heart, you take a chance that people will read it with respect, and not brutalize you or shun you. You hope people will like it (and I don’t mean just your mom or your spouse).
Should I paint myself neon green, set my hair on fire, and walk down the street naked? Feels like it today, when the comments are racking up, the Facebook shares, comments, likes are ticking away, and I can see it being retweeted. A story I’ve written is birthed into the world, and the trolls are out with pitchforks and clubs, flaming while they sip their coffee and sport with a topic that for them is a moment’s entertainment, but for me, is the result of years of pent-up angst, fear, and shame. A story that haunts me still.
Here’s the link to one of these pieces: http://www.spj.org/quill_issue.asp?ref=2174
Others are still waiting to see the light, to get the editor’s go-ahead. I wrote it, I revised it, I took the plunge and sent it out, an editor snapped it up and has it in the queue. Isn’t that what we are dying for? Waiting all out writerly lives for? Of course. But birth pangs are hard, and even afterbirth pains hurt.
- Don’t read the comments.
- Don’t feed the trolls.
- It’s not about me, it’s about the commenter.
- If I have helped one person, it’s been worth it.
- My friends love and support me.
- Not everyone deserves to read my stories.
- You can’t stop the Internet.
- Telling is freeing. Telling is healing.
It’s scary as heck to tell your secrets. Find a buddy, and tell them anyway. It’s terrifying. But I did it. Can you?
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.