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Closet Writer

For most of my writing life, I've written in the closet. My desk is shoved into the far end of our walk in closet. Moth-eaten dresses hang in my face, outdated purses and scuffed pumps are strewn under my chair, and a lone bulb swings above my head casting eerie shadows.

Yes, I've been a closet writer.

But not that kind of closet writer! Thankfully, I don't have to resort to writing in my walk-in (although I'm sure some days I'd actually get more writing done if I did hide out among the stacks of sweaters.)

What I really am is the kind of writer who spends years crafting books, but never tells anyone about my writing pursuits other than my family. They know of my secret life and the hours I spend on my lap top making up stories, but that's as far as it goes. Every once in a while one of the children will slip up in public and talk about my writing, but I can usually cover it up with a quick, "O-o-oh that's nothing."

What drove me into the closet? I'm not a psychologist. I leave the psycho-analyzing to my counselor husband. But I'm guessing that fear of failure is what pushed me to the dark corners of a hidden writing life.

Let's face it, fear of failure is a very real emotion for most of us. Often we're afraid to tell people about our writing endeavors because we think then we'll have to prove to them we're good enough. We dread hearing THE question, "So. . . what have you published?" And we duck our heads in shame and mumble, "Uh, nothin' yet."

We scramble to explain why we spend so much time writing when we're not published. And we eventually get embarrassed often enough that we decide we'd rather NOT tell anyone about the passion that pushes us to write. We know we'd keep writing even if we never got published, but how can anyone except another a writer understand that?

Then. . .we head to the closet. It's easier there. No pressures, no awkward questions, no raised eyebrows. We plop into our swivel chairs, sigh a solitary but serene breath, and revel in the pleasure of our secret writing life.

I've done most of my writing in the closet. Except for a few close friends and family, most people in my every day life have been completely oblivious of my passion for writing. Come back on Wednesday as I share reactions of friends and acquaintances as I begin to come out of the closet.

For today I'd love to hear your experiences! Have you ever been a closet writer? What drove you there? And if you have been open with everyone about your writing, how have you managed to handle the fear-of-failure syndrome?

51 comments:

  1. I am a closet writer. I can count on one hand how many people know that I write. Having said that, one would only have to google my name to "out me." I'm walking a thin line, and I am okay with it, or I wouldn't have started a blog.

    I can't wait to read the rest of your posts on this, Jody. Great series!! I've thought about this subject many times.

    Happy Monday!

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  2. Ooo, I'm the first! :)
    I was in the closet only a short time...1/2 a year maybe. I found though, that as it began to slip out that I was writing, it kept me accountable. People would ask and I would have to report my progress. It was a way to keep me going and finish that first book. Fear of failure is what let me tell others to keep me accountable. I didn't want to start a book and never finish. I wanted to say I had done it! And I did!!!
    Any new news on your books? I've been so out of the loop, but I think I would have noticed all the happy dancing going on in cyberspace, if something had happened. :)

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  3. Ah yes, I'm a quasi-closet writer. Just this weekend, my mom and I went shopping together. And while we're checking out at Von Maur, buying a dress for the conference, she pulls out my business card and practically shoves it in the worker lady's face. And the whole time I'm closing my eyes trying to disappear, just praying the worker lady doesn't ask me THE question. That, "Oh, so where can I buy your book?" Thankfully, she didn't. You're right. Nobody but a writer can understand.

    When I tell people I write, they are like, "Oh, that's nice." They just don't get it.

    My family and close friends do, though. So thankful for them!

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  4. I try to be... but my mother likes to tell EVERYONE about her daughter who is going to be a writer. Not that I mind... I mean, eventually her need to tell the world will be good marketing for me *grin* but right now it's highly embarrassing. I get those horrid, "So, you're published?" questions, to which I have to bite my cheek and mumble no, and they get this almost (probably imagined) smirk on their faces, realizing that I'm probably just dabbling and am probably a horrible writer.

    Is it fear of failure? Kinda... I mean I fear that, but it isn't why I don't like to tell the world. It's more the embarrassment of having to explained my non-published status. But... the fear of failure is there too a bit:-)

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  5. I do it also. I guess I figure it's not a "real" job or that people will think I am crazier than they already do.... :O)

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  6. I was a closet writer for years, as in I couldn't tell people I was a writer. It was so defeating. I couldn't celebrate this big change in my life. So one day I decided, what the hell, I'm putting it out there. THen everyone was asking what I had written, "two chapters yesterday." No body got it. Still don't. But I am out there. For better or worse.

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  7. I was. I guess maybe we all are at some point. But it becomes easier to start sharing about it, the more you get on your resume. And, the online connections I've made bolster my confidence, which makes me feel more open about my writing.

    Good post, Jody!

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  8. LOL I'm definitely a closet writer. I don't like to tell people because even though when they find out they're very sweet, they always ask when I'll be published or how many books I've written. I guess I'm really private and there's also the fear of failure.
    Unfortunately, my hubby is the opposite. LOL When he does something he's proud of, everyone knows. :-) And he's proud of me, therefore he outed me to several friends and I was extremely embarrassed. But not it's okay because I'm learning how to respond and change the subject. Heehee.
    Now, online, behind the protection of my computer screen, I'm already OUT. :-) No fear in cyber land. LOL

    Great topic Jody!

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  9. I'm somewhat closeted. I'd say about half of my friends know I write. It's interesting, but those who know I submit stories are amazed I put up with rejection.

    Fear-of-failure syndrome, well, my goals are modest and occasionally met so I handle it okay . . . for now.

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  10. Oh how I know about the "fear of failure" writers syndrome!! It's taken the encouragement and support of my loving family, friends and other writers for me to overcome it though I still admit to a twinge now and then. I'm learning to write for the sheer joy of it and publication is the "icing on the cake"! And yes, I tell anyone who asks, "I'm a writer and proud of it!!"

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  11. I'm very much like you, Jody. But lately a few more at our church have learned of my pursuit. They are kind enough not to ask me how it's going. THankfully.

    My biggest challenge is when people look at me as though I'm some lazy no-good wife/mother, who does nothing all day because my kids are out at school, and make me feel like I really need to get a real job. Hate that!

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  12. Thanks for your transparency on this one, Jody. All of us have done the closet writer thing, or are doing it currently.

    I'm not so much afraid to fail as I'm afraid of people not understanding my calling. If I can't come to a meeting because I'm covered in writing or trying to meet a deadline, some people look at me like "So what? What's the big deal?" I don't talk as much about my writing with people I fear will not understand because I know I'll be tempted to be hurt and angry with them. So my closet thing is really more to protect myself from negative emotions that may lead to sin on my part.

    Sorry if I got too psychological for you there!

    LOve, Jen
    Audience of ONE

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  13. I guess I waited so long to start writing (it was 1999 and I was 50) that it never occurred to me to hide it. For all the years that I wanted to write and couldn't even admit it to myself, let alone anyone else, well that's another story (and part of it is in my memoir). My struggle has been more of fearing success, than fearing failure.
    Jody, you have a real gift for honing in on subjects we all struggle with. I love your blog.
    Karen

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  14. Jody, I think what helped me is that I started my career as a journalist, and I really honed my writing in journalistic fashion at that time, so I felt confident to call myself a writer as I emerged from that world and into the area of parenting and doing freelance writing and eventually becoming published as a children's author. That said, I think there is a healthy aspect to keeping one toe in the closet as a writer. We guard our work before it is ready to be seen by the outer world for a reason. We don't send our babies out into the world until they're ready. And even when we are ready for our work to be more public, I think we always have to be mindful of the need for balance -- to stay humble, to remember our true purpose in writing thing isn't to be "famous" but to bring great stories to others and, thereby, share pieces of our souls with those with whom we are journeying. I have had to subdue my enthusiasm regarding my writing around most people who wouldn't understand it. I think all of us do that, and in that way, we're all closet writers to some extent. Thanks for being vulnerable so we could have this discussion. :) I think it's safe to say you are coming out of the closet now!

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  15. I still am in the closet in some ways. Perhaps one foot in and one out. Facebook presented a whole new take on that. With blogging, I'm lettin' it all hang out b/c I finally feel as though I've met a group of people who love writing as much as I do. It's like coming across other munchkins in Oz. We just connect. But do I want everyone and their mother (kind of literal here) to know about my writing track on FB...not so sure, so I'm hangin' out in the closet there. Secret identity. Keeps me mysterious, right? :D
    ~ Wendy

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  16. Jody,
    Sometimes I think we are almost the same person! I did a post about this way back when I first started blogging. I have found that the most uncomfortable part of writing is telling someone that I write. You are right; it is that fear of failure that makes it so uncomfortable. At this point, my family and closest friends (and of course all of blogville) are the only ones who know that I write.

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  17. I was pushed into the closet by my wife, who is superstitious about such things. She feels I'll get my first book published more quickly if I keep my mouth shut.

    As for me, I probably talk more than I should. However, I have some published magazine articles that I can point to if anyone asks.

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  18. I didn't tell anyone that I was writing a novel until I finished the first draft. The idea of being one of those writers that start the novel and never finish it made me nervous to say I was a writer. Now, it's just extra motivation.

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  19. I'm a closet writer! My hubby hates this he tries to tell the whole world (his family). I've taken more than my share of 'so when's you're work going to get published?, 'It's not going to get published is it?', 'let ME read your stuff.', 'I"VE got a great idea for a book'. On those days I'd like to wring my hubby's neck ;) Now whenever we're with his family, I feel like it's the elephant in the room. (oh to be in that closet again). I like the closet because it's quiet, safe and resonably all around comfortable. Great topic for a post!
    BTW, You are now legally allowed to emerge from the closet. In fact if you we're standing next to me I'd gently shove you out. I think representation is a good time to exercise you're impending authorhood and inspire those around you who may be in hiding as well ;)

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  20. Hey, Jody! This was a great post!

    YES, ME TOO! I don't let many people read what I write. In fact, though I'm sure my parents suspect it, neither of them know that I've written one book, let alone five! It's just so personal. I feel like I'm taking my heart and laying it bare. I'd rather have total strangers rip my manuscript to pieces than people I know read it and say, "oh, it was okay."

    Up until last month, my biggest declaration of "success" as a writer was that a major Christian magazine had purchased a short story of mine in 2005--but never published it! I learned not to talk about it because it was just so frustrating to keep hearing, "so, when is it coming out?"

    Tomorrow I'm talking about fear and those voices that we hear as writers on my blog. It's always a huge struggle for me. Last week was difficult, so I decided to turn that into a post!

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  21. I think I am a closet writer who has one foot out the door. I've told a select few of my friends and family, but I don't talk about it in social settings. I'm afraid of the dreaded question because I have yet to publish anything. Maybe that will change once I (dare I dream) do get a book published. I hope so. Untill then, I am content with enjoying my writing. I like my peaceful time.

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  22. Oh yes, me too. And, when I finally started to open up a bit and share my writing dream, it was tough. I hated those questions...'so what's happening with your book?'. I know they are being nice, but the answer, 'nothing, still working or still querying' was downright painful to say.

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  23. My husband would like me to be a closet writer. He's getting used to it, but he used to cringe every time I talked to someone about my writing. It usually went something like this: "So, what do you do all day?" "Well, I do the usual stay-at-home mom stuff, but when I have a free moment, I work on my novel." For me, it's all about positive thinking. I believe I can do it and I will. I just don't know when. LOL

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  24. At every job I have, I try to keep it a secret but eventually it seeps out. I just want to avoid the accusation that I'm writing on the job. (Which I do when things are slow, but that's beside the point!)

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  25. I was a complete closet writer. I was actively honing my craft and pitching my work, but I still told no one that I knew that I was a writer. It was too embarrassing to explain that I spend my time thinking up ways to kill people. LOL I thought everyone would think I was weird.
    But my husband had no such qualms. Even though I begged him not to, he told everyone that I was writing. And guess what? Most people that know are very encouraging. I don't mind the "how's the writing coming" question, because no matter what I say people encourage me to keep at it.
    And most people are amused that I kill people in my head.

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  26. Growing old is a big help. I have stacks of essays, stories, songs and poems I wrote when I was younger. I once started a novel. I shared a couple of pages with a friend at work when he saw me writing in my steno pad. The self-doubt made me put it away. Yes, I was a closet-writer.

    Now, I am old. Not really old, but 50s. Old enough to not judge myself so harshly. Now, when I read my ms pages, I look at then through different eyes... eyes without self-esteem issues; and I think, "Hey, this is good!" So I tell anyone that cares to listen, "I'm writing a book."

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  27. I've never been much of a closet anything. I wear it all on my sleeve. But I so relate to the fear of failure and the disappointment of yet again having to say, "Not yet" when people ask if I've made it to publication. My first writer's conference did wonders for all that. I felt validated just being surrounded by all those fellow writers and by the encouragement from those in the business who had made it and believed that I could too.

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  28. Hi Jody. I have always had a hard time telling others I'm a writer. It's not that I'm ashamed of my calling, it's just that non-writers don't understand when you say, "oh, I'm not published yet". And I absolutely hate when people ask me what my book is about. It's a trilogy and it's LONG. I've tried and tried to summarize it, but everytime I do, it comes out lacking. But then again, if someone were to ask me to summarize The Lord of the Rings, I'd say, "It's about this hobbit named Frodo who inherits a magic ring and has to take it to Mount Doom in order to dystroy it so it's former evil owner doesn't get it back". Doesn't sound too captivating, does it? Not that I'm comparing myself to JRR Tolkien (heaven forbid!). I guess I write all of that to encourage myself to just lay it out there and let those who are interested be interested and those who aren't, dismiss it. It all boils down to being confident in our calling. Now if I could just buy some confidence pills at the herb shop...when I find them, I'll let you know!

    Jen

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  29. I started out not wanting to talk about it, but eventually, word got out. The hardest part is, as you say, talking to folks who don't understand how long it can take between starting your first novel and seeing a book you've written on a bookstore shelf.

    It's so much easier when you can at least give folks a publication date.

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  30. I'm just now coming out of my closet. It was fear of failure that drove me there. Growing up my writing was looked at as "scribbling" and I was often asked when I was going to do something productive with my time. It was through the support of my wonderful husband, that I am finally coming out of the closet and seeing my writing as something more than scribbles on a page. I have received those awkward questions...and I still don't know how to answer them well. It is through blogging and networking with other aspiring writers, that I feel the world is safe for me to come out of my closet and air my work. I don't know when I will be able to say that I have something published...but I don't want to write with the smell of moth balls in my nose!

    Great post!!!

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  31. Whew. I'm not alone. My "fear of failure" hinges on being a perfectionist. I don't want others to see or know until I've got the manuscript ready. And can answer the inevitable "so where can I buy your book" question.

    I thought I got over this fear factor as a non-fiction author (articles and one book) but find I'm back in the closet with my fiction. However, Facebook, blogging, critique groups, ACFW and the Genesis contest are blowing my cover.

    Some days I think that if only I can get an agent, then I'll be official enough to ...

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  32. I was a closet writer, literally and metaphorically! My tiny desk actually WAS in the closet surrounded by shoes and dresses. Fortunately, I was able to liberate myself to a corner in my bedroom that overlooks my backyard :)

    I'm still in there when it comes to telling people I'm a writer, for sure. Only a few close friends and family know...well, and anyone who reads my blog. I'm not opposed to people knowing, I just don't go around saying it "out loud" :)

    Great post!

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  33. Of course, there's something to be said for people not knowing. When too many people do know, the expectation level gets really high. When you do publish, it's supposed to be Pulitzer Prize-worthy. And if it takes longer than say, ordering a Big Mac at the drive-thru, people want to know why, especially when they just bought Sally Sue's latest novel--her 10th.

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  34. When I began writing I didn't know a single writer. I wrote in isolation for two years, and I was lonely.

    Because I lacked the support of other writers, I chose to tell my family and friends about my new endeavor. At first, the "Are you published yet?" questions were tough, but over time I've been able to educate others on the profession. Most of my friends and fellow church members now say, "How's your writing coming?" I appreciate their support and interest and know these dear people will be the ones attending my launch party when I land that long-awaited first contract.

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  35. Before I got my publishing contract, only my family and a few friends knew that I liked to write. I think I was intimidated to tell anyone. Then they'd started asking me questions. "What do you write?" "Why do you write it?" "Have you had anything published?" I guess it's also for the same reason I don't like speaking in front of a group. Because then the attention is on me. And I feel pressured to say the right thing. Usually, I just end up stumbling over my words and feeling silly!

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  36. I'm not very private with my activities. I immediately told my best friend when I seriously started writing. She didn't think I would be able to make it. (I didn't as far as real publication is concerned.) But I did persevere and improve and the only fear of failure is marketing, not friends or family.

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  37. I'm an out-of-the-closet writer! Yay! I used to keep it to myself also, mostly because people are very well-meaning, but their comments and questions often brought doubts into my head. It just wasn't worth it. But now, I'm more confident, so I tell people the truth.

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  38. It was only when I came out of the closet and showed my writing to one of my dearest friends that I actually began to think of myself as a writer.

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  39. Hi Jody -

    I don't talk about the book too much because people get impatient when they hear I'm still not published. Getting non-fiction stuff published takes the edge off their frowns.

    Several are beginning to comprehend the process is time-consuming and often difficult. They're even praying for me. :)

    Blessings,
    Susan

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  40. Wow, Jody! Lots of closet writers. I came back over to read the comments from this post. I defintely don't feel so alone anymore.

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  42. I'm mostly a closet writer still. Family and close friends know. It's part fear of failure and it's part not wanting the patronizing--oh, that's a nice hobby. Plus, I'm horrible at coming up with log lines, so when people ask "what's your book about?" I don't have a succinct answer prepared. I end up mumbling something about the genre.

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  43. Oh Jody, that's a hard one. For me, bringing my writing out of the closet hasn't quite happened. And I have been published in a few magazines, but still I shy away from saying, "I am a writer." Most people don't understand what that means and I can be a bit fragile about myself on occasion. I guess I tell those who I think really want to know. I try not to throw pearls to swine so as to speak.

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  45. I used to be a closet writer. I didn't want anyone to know. Then I realized that I wasn't embarrassed to tell people I made cards. Or liked tennis. Or Oreos. Or anything else that brought me joy. So why writing? And the rest is history!

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  46. I was a closet writer for so long. Even after being published, I feared telling people. It is getting easier now but still I don't feel worthy enough to call myself a writer. Hmm--when do we get it?

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  48. No, I haven't been a closet writer, much. I began writing bulletin articles for churches when I was about 20. And I had articles published in journals when in my early 20s.

    But, it is another thing to tell someone, "I'm writing a book." I waited until this one was nearly over to tell anyone.

    Fear of failure? Yes. My book is self-published. To some, that makes it less of a book. I did endure the process of having it set on someone's desk for weeks or months before they wrote back and said, "No thanks." But I decided not to let that be the final word. I'll let people decide if the book is worth it or not. Bottom line, no one else can decide for us if we are failures or not.

    Another thing - my writing is different from yours. I think your genre is more difficult than mine. My hats off to all you fiction writers who make imaginary characters resonate with life, vitality and integrity!

    wb

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  49. I'm a closet writer. But I don't know that I fear failure. I think I fear that I won't be allowed to live and breath my very private thoughts that are behind my writings. I don't know if that makes sense, but I think I sometimes fear that if I'm out in the open that I'll be forced to expose too much of myself, endure vulnerability.

    Hopefully we can all deal with the fears!

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  50. I spent most of my life as a closet writer. But then, a couple of years ago, I got roped into participating in NaNoWriMo and started mentioning it to a couple of people. The next year, I actually spoke to other participants online. And the third year I dared to meet a group of writers in person. Meeting other writers gave me the courage to not hide my hobby/passion/ambition from the non-writers in my life.

    What I learned is that, even if I never get published, most people still thinks it's pretty cool.

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  51. I was a closet writer. Oh heck, I'm STILL a closet writer. :)

    It's my friends or family that come over to people and say, "Hey, do you know she's an author?" LOL!

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