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Stepping Out of the Writer's Closet

Many of us have written in the closet at some point in our writing career. I never intended to write in the closet, but I ended up there for many long years. Several of my friends knew I "liked" to write, but that's about as much as I disclosed. Until recently. . .

Slowly I began to push open the door.

Since I finaled in a national fiction writer's contest and then acquired an agent, my writing career has expanded and the closet has grown cramped. I know I can't wait until my book is on the shelf at Barnes & Noble before I start telling people I'm an author. But at what point do I share the news that I'm a writer seriously pursuing publication?

I can't hide in the closet forever, especially because I've learned how important marketing is for new authors. I would have to learn to promote myself and my books at some point. Why not start now?

So. . . I told my hair stylist of eight years. She combed her fingers through my hair and asked how much I wanted cut. And that's when I sprang out of the closet. I needed a fresh cut for the photo shoot I was having, because I'd finaled in a writer's conference and needed to send them a picture. After a moment of silence, she said, "I didn't know you were a writer. Why didn't you ever tell me?" Along with my guilt came her embarrassing questions about what I was writing and when I'd be published.

Then. . . I told my photographer friend. Of course I had to let her know why I wanted a photo shoot. After all, I not only needed a picture for the contest but also for the book proposal my agent was sending to a publishing house.

And next. . . I had to tell a couple of girlfriends why I couldn't join them for a family barbecue. Because that was the weekend right before my book proposal deadline and surely they knew I'd be working day and night until I had it ready for my agent.

The closet door opened wider and wider and wider. With each situation, I'd wipe the perspiration from my forehead, unstick my tongue from the roof of my mouth, and straighten my shoulders for the next encounter.

Yes, it's been incredibly awkward at times. And yes, I've fumbled over my explanations of what I'm doing and why. I've battled the guilt of hiding an important part of myself from those who could have supported me. And I've fought the frustration of well-meaning people not understanding how difficult the writing journey really is.

For better or worse, the closet door is all the way open. I've stepped out. And I can't go back in, ever again.

But, strangely I'm breathing the fresh air of freedom--the freedom to express who I really am. I have more room to stretch my arms and legs and move with the confidence that I am a writer.

What reactions from others did you experience when you opened the closet and stepped out? And if you haven't opened the door yet, what reaction do you dread the most?

37 comments:

  1. I've opened it mostly. But... it's hard sometimes. At least you had something to TELL them (my agent needs my proposal... I finaled in a contest)

    Me? "I write contemporary romance."

    Response: "Oh, you're published?"

    me. "Well, um, no, not yet. But I'm trying!"

    Response: "Ohhhhhhh, so it's your, like hobby?"

    me... trying not to grind my teeth. "I guess... kinda..." NO!

    Very few people REALLY understand outside of other writers. My DAD even asked me the other day if I was published yet. Does he not think he'd be one of the FIRST TO KNOW if I was? DUH!?!

    Couple it with the fact that my mom tells EVERYONE she knows, so I can meet people and they're like, "Oh, so you're a writer, right?"

    Closet, where for art thou?

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  2. It was great to read this part of it for you. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    I jump back in the closet every once in awhile; it's like familiar territory that's only mine.

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  3. When I was in college, it was easy to talk about writing because it was my major, and that's a clear closet-door-openor. :) But since college...and especially since my job has NOTHING to do with writing...it does get harder to tell people that I write. I still cave to the need to be accepted, so telling people that my idea of a super Sunday is researching and writing Bible studies does take a little bit of courage.

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  4. What a beautiful post, Jody. I really enjoy how open you are with you journey. You are such an inspiration to others. I have a question for you... Would you stay in the closet for as long as you did if you could do it over again?

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  5. Oh, Jody, I am so happy for you that you got bold and came out! All that freedom is exhilirating.

    I did just the opposite. I told too many people, got hurt when they didn't understand, and wished I had stayed in my closet til my books were published.

    One thing that's helped me a LOT is the Lord telling me, "They don't have to understand." That set me free to be happy with my gifts and callings and not worry about approval from others. Well, sometimes. LOL!

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  6. Heather,

    If I had to do it again, I'd probably be more open about my writing, particularly with closer friends. Jeannette brought up a good point, people don't have to understand, but if I share my passion for writing, then at least I'm living with the freedom with who I am and my gifts.

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  7. Anytime we venture into new fields or receive recognition it can be awkward. When they want to know why you didn't tell them sooner you might just say that you were trying to develop your writing and there wasn't much to tell until now.

    I didn't tell some people in my family b/c I knew they would pester me with "When will it be done? Why is it taking so long? What is it about?"

    This is just part of the process, I think. Enjoy it!

    wb

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  8. Most think that getting published is instantaneous. I have no idea why? It's so obsurd, but, honestly, that's the impression I get. And then when you tell them you don't expect to get published for years, they brush you off, like what you're doing is a waste of time then. It really bothers me, but I keep lifting all that to God--at least I try to.

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  9. I think because I started my career as a journalist, there was no closet to hide in. I was "out" from the get-go. However, stepping into the blogging world has, in some ways, been coming into the light of day more fully. I am more exposed in some ways through it. Before then, even though I was a working writer and eventually a published author, too, the writing part of my life still felt rather tucked away in between spaces of everything else. I am happy for you, Jody. I think it would have been very hard to stay in that dark space for so long, even as the passion was burning within to share your words. As for the awkward questions, it's doubtful that will ever go away. As I wrote in my post today, the mystique of being a writer seems fairly pervasive. It's up to us to help those in the non-writing world to see the reality of it, as gently as possible. :)

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  10. I don't necessarily dread other's reactions...but my own reaction to want to defend myself.

    "So where can I buy your book?"

    "It's not published. But the publishing industry is such a hard one to break into. It's like you need an agent to get published, but...blah, blah, blah"

    I do not want to defend my writing.

    What's so hard about this simple answer:

    "Oh, I'm not published yet. But I hope to be someday."

    That will be my new response from now on!

    Great post! I'm glad you're out of the closet.

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  11. I'm glad you out of the closet. And, I'm glad the air out there is fresh and inviting. I hope to join you soon! I used to have an agent and thankfully I didn't step all the way out with that fiasco (trust me your situation is miles different) Soon as I get an agent I'm doing the same thing as you. Hair, photo (in my case photoshop ;) webpage, facebook, twitter, new style blog, find a last name people can say, you know, the usual =)

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  12. I like how you mentioned the word awkward (which I think is spelled exactly as it is defined, btw). I graduated with a degree in creative writing, but took a chunky hiatus to basically nurse my children (it takes time, you know)...Hopping back into it over these last several years, I've been slow to let it leak that my work has been published and that I'm digging into my novels.

    Certain people downplay it and treat it flippantly. It makes me sad when this happens b/c it is such a passion for me and something I sacrifice a lot for and spend a lot of time doing...

    Anyway, can you tell you hit a chord with me on this topic. Great post, as usual!
    ~ Wendy

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  13. Just had to comment because my "office" is actually a closet, a little one (3'X5'). It's the only space in the house I don't have to share, and it works for me!

    As to telling others about my writing, I'm always hesitant to say "I'm published" because none of my books have sold, just some magazine pieces. It is so good to have others out there who get the isolation, the process, and the joy associated with writing. Thanks for starting this conversaton.

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  14. Dear Jody,
    I am so glad you feel that freedom that comes from speaking our truth, to ourselves and to others. Hiding who we are can be hurtful, but the friends who love us understand our process and will love and accept us no matter what. So don't worry about those who don't.
    One other thought. Just because a writer isn't published yet doesn't mean they are not a writer. I think we get so caught up in defining our success by whether or not our work is published, we lose sight of the fact that by virtue of the fact that we write,we are, by definition, writers.
    Blessings,
    karen

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  15. This post has been so encouraging to me. Thank you! I do tend to keep one foot inside the closet. I hate it when I tell people I'm a writer and they say, "O. That's nice". To me, that equates to patting the dog on the head out of obligation and then hoping it will go away. Grrrr. I have started to lighten it up a bit. When people ask what I do, I grin and say I'm a writer masquerading as a secretary for an IT Company. That usually gets a smile or two :)

    Jen

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  16. I love this post Jody. I am at the beginning of my writer path, and the few times I have expressed my writing choices and goals I get looked at strangely, as if it is a pipe dream. A few people are interested in what I'm writing. But truthfully I haven't gotten far. So after those experiences I kinda backed myself into the closet.

    The problem with being in the closet is my writing suffers. Because hiding my passion just doesn't encourage me to work on developing my skills.

    I really enjoyed this post.

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  17. So glad you opened the door! Myself, I don't truly consider myself a public writer, only writing in my journals my life with the Lord for years. THen, God asked me to start writing. I was a petrified! He asked me again and then pushed me out of the nest. He showed me a blog and I began. At first, I was more than nervous as I write my entries, my heart, my life. But I continue to be in awe of how He can use our words for His glory.

    Delighted to be splashed in encouragement today through your blog. What an exciting time in your life!

    Blessings from Costa Rica,
    Sarah Dawn

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  18. Jody, you write the most incredible posts! I can't wait to read them every day! Most of the time I believe you've got ESP or something and write about me!

    I'm out of my closet and thrilled to be out there with you celebrating the life of a writer. And it feels so good!

    When I tell people that I'm a writer, and I do a lot now, of course they ask where I've been published. (Isn't that the first question always asked???) I tell them my writing story, where I am and where I hope to go. Some think I'm a bit crazy and often I agree! But the unexpected responses are wonderful, supportive and encouraging.

    So guess what world? I'm a writer and proud of it whether published or hope to be published!

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  19. Hey, Jody!

    I'm not completely out of the closet yet, though I am talking about it more freely. Most get excited. Some who have read stuff I've written in the past (usually things related to missions) have said that I should write a book or something. They just don't know that I've written five and am about to start number 6! I'm going to stay in the closet for a bit longer... at least until I do well in a contest, get an agent, or something. My secret is safe on the web, right? :0) I mean, as long as no one googles me....

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  20. I think that first step is the hardest. Congrats on outing yourself in style (new haircut and photo shoot, woohoo!)

    Thanks for the reminder to be honest with those around us about our writing. It beats suffering in silence over a rejection no one knew we had.

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  21. i actually dread my family's reactions right now. when i'm spending time on the computer trying to finish my WIp or read writing blogs, etc, it looks like i'm wasting time to them (at least sometimes). so when i finally come out of the closet, i think it'll be more of a relief for me than anything. then things will look justified.

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  22. I (shamefacedly) have not fully stepped out of the closet at this point, but plan on doing so within the next year. I agree with Jeannie. My family's response is what I fear most. I have always classified myself as a singer, but I won't sing in front of them. Not unless it's for a performance and an audience is present, that is.

    I recently started my blog (52weeksofwordage.blogspot.com), and I am doing my best to tell as many people as I can about it, including my family and close friends. It's a place where I get to write whatever I want, whenever I want, and it's wonderfully freeing. The pseudo anonymity of the internet is also helpful.

    It's all about the baby steps, or so they tell me.

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  23. By the time I worked with a life coach and realized I was ready to do more than just dream of being a writer, I was a forty-something mom of a high school student. Perhaps I'd lived long enough to know that support is vital, but I told everyone about my new venture.

    The first admission to a small group from church made my stomach spin cartwheels though. I was sure they'd think writing my inspirational historical romances was silly. Uh, no. They were incredibly supportive. One member, a teacher, even volunteered to read my manuscript. Not only that, but he invited me to speak to his class about writing, and my talk encouraged a group of fourth graders.

    It took some time to gently educate my friends about the long and winding road to publication, but they listened, learned and have come alongside every step of the way. They uphold me when I 'm down and happy dance with me when I receive good news. I look forward to the day I can invite them to the launch party for my debut novel and tell them how much their support and encouragement have meant to me.

    Sorry to be long-winded, but my experience coming out of the closet has been so positive, I want to encourage those who may be reluctant to do so.

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  24. Beautifully put, Jody. I've been thinking about being a little more open about my writing. I would feel pretty strange if someone close to me did happen to come across my blog and think all-of-a-sudden they didn't know me at all. I'm not intentionally hiding anything, but...

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  25. Nearly every single person I have told about my writing has asked to read it. I'm always nervous when I tell someone, but I have found that they are usually very encouraging.

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  26. So far I haven't gotten any negative responses *crossing fingers*
    I'm not looking forward to exposing myself. It's scary. *shiver*

    Congrats for stepping on out! :-) I think that's a brave thing to do and I hope you get a contract, followed by tons of sales because of your bravery! LOL

    Sometimes I have to tell people. Like yesterday I went shopping for business casual clothes. Your comment on my blog made me laugh because I'm a sahm too, so I didn't have any. Well, the lady asked where I worked and I said I don't, I'm going to a conference. Then she asked, what kind? I said writing. And she said, oh, that's nice.
    And I was so relieved. LOL!

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  27. Well, Jody, I guess my story is a little different, since I write non-fiction. My very first articles appeared in our local newspaper. However, it totally FREAKED me out that my name was in print. It wasn't the NY Times, but still. Some of my friends read it and knew. (And all those strangers! LOL)

    Things have expanded from there, and my family is extremely supportive (especially my hubby), but I understand wanting to jump back into the closet. At this point I think all of my friends know I write. In fact, I am approached by people from church regularly for advice, info, etc. and I do my best to help.

    This writing journey is one crazy adventure!

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  28. I'm one foot in, one foot out of the closet!

    I think, like many others here, our writing is such a huge part of WHO WE ARE that when people don't show the interest we hope they will, we take it personally.

    I dread the "published or unpublished" questions, just like everyone else, but I know I'm doing what I LOVE, so that kind of helps! Great post!

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  29. I concur with the published or unpublished questions, but I usually introduce the topic by saying I'm a 'wanna be writer'. It adds a layer of casual humor and staves off too many pointed questions.

    Fun analaogy :)

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  30. I don't ever offer up that I am writing a book, but it gets out and then I am embarrassed...embarrassed to say I am writing a romance! Most people think of bodice rippers, and I have to explain further the genre. Sigh...I wonder if I will ever get over that?

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  31. I'm very open about my writing. One of the reasons is exactly what you pointed out--people genuinely want to know what you're all about. People tend to take their cues from the one speaking. When I present it as no big deal-this is what I do, they're supportive.

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  32. I can't believe you waited that long! WOW! My hairdresser already knows but then what doesn't she know?lol

    I dread most the reaction I do get sometimes--nothing. Some family members don't get how thrilled I am to see anything published.

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  33. You deserve it! Embrace all that God is giving you and enjoy. Can't wait to see your new hair-do! :O)

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  34. I'm not sure I've even made it to the closet! I'm still working on convincing myself I'm a writer. Recently as I sat on the floor with my daughter and her friend (helping them with their English essays) I was overcome with a wave of joy every time we came up with that perfect sentence or word. At one point I even giggled and clapped my hands as I gleefully announced "this is so much fun!" They both looked at my like I had completely lost my mind! I think I stepped in the closet for the first time that night as I looked at their faces and realized they truly thought I walked to the edge and jumped off! Great Post!!

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  35. :) Your post made me smile. Not long ago I was a closet writer *and* and closet geek.

    It was fear that kept me in there. Fear that I just would not be able to justify myself to people adequately - why did I like computer games and surfing the Internet? What was I writing that I thought would be so good?

    It's amazing how moving across the Atlantic from England to Canada with the kids and hubby can divest you of all the social fears you have! Since we moved I've embraced my geekhood and my writing and I'm no longer afraid of telling people that I blog, write and play computer games.

    And guess what? Most people who ask are interested and polite and want to know more. Classifying yourself as a writer can be hard but rewarding. It is what you are and trying to hide that part of you becomes very wearing.

    And many congratulations on your book deal! I started at that post and I've been working backwards - I'm really enjoying your blog.

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  36. Sorry I'm late getting to this, Jody! You've had some great posts going here . . . I'm so behind! And, CONGRATULATIONS on your book deal!

    I'm still somewhat in the closet as a writer (although I've been trying to come out slowly this year by starting my blog). Mainly just my immediate family and a few close friends know. Only one person in my department at work knows and she's pretty trustworthy not to blab anything until I'm ready . . .

    When you say you're writing a book, you get so bombarded with questions like when's it going to be published, etc., I think it's easier to just not say anything until maybe you have, um, a contract in hand I guess.

    But I do like Kate Ganshert's answer--"I'm not published yet, but I hope to be someday." :)

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  37. Oops, sorry for the misspelling! It should be Katie Ganshert.

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