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Hiding in the Writing Closet: Good or Bad?


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I was a "closet writer" for most of my adult life. I spent years crafting books, but I never told anyone about my writing pursuits other than my family. They knew of my secret life and the hours I spent on my lap top making up stories, but that's as far as it went.

I think many writers have an underlying fear that keeps them hiding in the closet, especially before publication. 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. After we get embarrassed often enough, 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 published, but most people just don't understand what drives us.

So . . .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.

Of course, we have to come out of the closet sooner or later . . . at least if we hope to see our work published.

I came out of the writing closet several months before the release of my first book, The Preacher's Bride. I figured I needed to start giving hints to friends that they'd soon pass by my book at Barnes & Noble.

The full length article in the Sunday paper spotlighting my first book and my writing journey "outed" me too. And pretty soon, everyone around town knew. Yes, it was incredibly awkward at times. And yes, I fumbled over my explanations of what I was doing and why. I battled the guilt of hiding an important part of myself from those who could have supported me. And I fought the frustration of well-meaning people not understanding how difficult the writing journey really is.

Now after the past several years of being out of the closet, there are times when I'd like to retreat. I still get questions that are difficult to answer. Some friendships have grown cold due to the disapproval of my writing career or my books. And still other friends don't know what to say around me, so we don't talk about my writing much.

No matter where we're at in our publishing journeys, we'll experience times when we want to tuck away in our safe, secure writing closets. I've learned that sometimes it's okay to hide away. And sometimes it's not.

When it's not good to hide in the writing closet:

In hindsight, I realize that I needed to be proud of who I was as a writer. It's a huge part of my life. I had nothing to be ashamed of, even when I wasn't published. After all, many of my friends have passions too (for quilting or running or whatever), and no one ever looks down their noses at them.

As writers, we should be able embrace our passion, enjoy it, and spend time on it with a confidence that comes from knowing we're doing what we love and are gifted at.

There will always be awkward questions from friends, perhaps even condemnation, but we can't let our fears and insecurities push us back into the closet. If we hide away, we should do so because WE want or need to . . .

When it's good (even healthy) to head into the closet:

There will be times when it's healthy for us to close ourselves away from the outside world and just write. When I think back to those years I wrote in private, I realize I shouldn't have been afraid of what others thought. But I also see the good that came from not having all the distractions that going public can bring. I could write in solitude and really focus on my stories and becoming a better writer.

Let's face it, there are a lot of distractions bombarding the modern writer, especially with the invention of social media. Good critique groups, writing friends, and the abundance of writing advice—while all good—can eventually distract us from what matters most—just putting our butt in the chair and writing.

Whether it's online or in real life, sometimes we need to hole away, let the noise fade, and remind ourselves of what's truly important in the writing life . . . just writing.

What about you? Are you a closet writer? What was the reaction of family and friends when you came out? And are there times when you ever go back in the closet?

32 comments:

  1. Over all I'm glad I'm out of the writing closet. The question I really dislike is the "You're STILL writing that book?" as if I should have finished it up in a couple weeks.

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    1. LOL! I get some interesting questions too, like "Are you writing your next book yet?" It's difficult to answer that question and I generally just say yes. But the truth is I usually already have the next book or two written and headed down the long traditional publication pipeline. And I'm working on a book releasing a year or two down the road. :-)

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  2. Oh, I understand this! I just published my first short story, and I almost didn't tell anyone. I was partially afraid of the "why are you self-publishing instead of doing it the REAL way?" questions, partially afraid of people I know reading it and secretly thinking it stinks (don't care if strangers think that!), and partially just plain embarrassed. Isn't that ridiculous? Something that was a huge personal accomplishment, and I was embarrassed.

    I did announce it, though, and it took almost as much courage to do that as it had to upload the story to Smashwords and Amazon in the first place, but it was worth it. Overall, the reaction has definitely been encouraging!

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    1. Hi Louise,

      Congrats on coming out of the closet even though you were really embarrassed! I'm so proud of you! :-) I know how hard it is! I still get embarrassed when personal friends tell me they read my book. It IS easier when strangers read it and then comment.

      Thank you for sharing today! :-)

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  3. I, too, hid in the closet for years when it came to writing but I don't any longer. Yeah, there are those people who want to know why you do so and what you've published, but freeing myself to be who I am brought tremendous relief for me.

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    1. Hi Traci! So glad to hear that you came out and that it was freeing to you! Even if people don't understand, we can work on gently educating them (I had to do that with my husband during all of the years that I was in the closet writing and not making any money!).

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  4. I am still a closet writer but I consider this best as I'd say I'm still far from publishing as I need to learn more and practice my skills before even attempting publication.

    My family knows I'm a writer as well as my best friend who, when finding out I was writing a book, exclaimed, "You're going to be published and become famous!"

    I think as writers we want to keep our passion to ourselves because more often than not we will get one of two reactions - either people think writing automatically means fame and fortune or they disapprove of the idea of writing (fiction in particular, and even more so romance fiction).

    But I think only another writer can truly understand why we do what we do.

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    1. Hi Shelly,

      That's why I love the online writing community so much. We can provide that "outing" experience for one another, at least in this arena. Maybe we won't be as public about our writing lives in real life (perhaps because we want to continue to grow first), but we can find the support we need with other writers online who do truly understand!

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  5. I'm a closet writer with my family. But after my mom told me about a year ago that fiction is a waste of time, I just didn't want to open myself up like that. I have been a bit of a closet fiction writer with my blog followers because I didn't want them to think that I was wanting them to follow just so I could ask them to buy a book later. I've wondered about "coming out of the closet" on my blog, but I'm not sure how to weave fiction in with my homeschooling mommy theme. My followers already know how much I love and encourage reading. Thanks for the encouragement today. I think I need to be more open with my friends.

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    1. Oh Meghan, I'm sorry to hear about your mom's comment. It's always amazing to me to meet people who don't see the wonderful value of fiction. I'm sure those same people love movies and TV! Stories are stories (no matter the medium).

      I hope that you'll find the courage to begin to share more about your writing with your bloggers. I'm sure they'll be able to understand since they already see you writing your blog. You wouldn't have to change your theme, but perhaps talk about homeschooling and writing and how they fit. I'm sure your readers would appreciate that!

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  6. I've been pretty supported by friends and family alike, for some reason most of them expected I'd write at some point in time when I came clean, so I didn't have any awkwardness that way.

    However, after selling recently, I've told some less intimate friends and family and I was surprised at how one of them recently was appalled that I'd written for 4 years without compensation. I tried to liken it to needing college before starting in a vocation or that others take many more years, but she just kept saying that I shouldn't have worked for free.....I quit the conversation after that. :)

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    1. Hi Melissa,

      Ugh. Sounds like a pretty typical kind of conversation with someone who doesn't know what the writing industry is like! As Shelly mentioned above, so many people have the stereotype that published authors are rich and famous. And they just don't realize that even after being published it takes many books and many years to grow a readership! And even then there is no guarantee of making it "big" especially in today's crowded marketplace! I think you were right to just quit the conversation! :-)

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  7. Hi Jody.

    Very interesting post.

    I know too about the writing closet. I'm still in it :). Not because I'm feeling ashamed about writing or anything similar, but I don't like pressure. In any aspect of my life. I cringe when hearing: "How is your writing going?" or "Where are you with your books?". Though that is my fault. The people asking are really interested, but I am the one feeling pressed due to my inner critic. So, I'm not talking about it.

    I really really did not like this sentence:
    quoting: "Some friendships have grown cold due to the disapproval of my writing career or my books." Sorry, but these were not friendships, or rather these were not friends. A real friend likes you for who you are, not for what you do. And it's not like they suddenly discovered that you are an assassin or a criminal and you hid that. Last time I checked, writing was not a crime ;).

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  8. Yes! I understand what you're saying about friendships. Friendships come and go in our lives, and sometimes grow colder. I write historical romance, and there are still many who turn up their noses at any fiction labeled "romance." And still others are more academic and see popular fiction as less noble, perhaps. Whatever the case, not everyone adores my fiction-writing aspirations! :-)

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  9. I was never in the closet about the fact that I was a writer; but some of the stuff I have written, I have buried deep in the closet.

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    1. LOL! The closet is a very good place for some of those old manuscripts!

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  10. My gosh, Jody I know it's sounding kinda of cliché now but it's true. (Once again): I enjoyed this post! Man, I love how you've got that down-to-earth vibe and I know I would love to meet you in person!:-)

    And you are one smart woman. God bless you. I found this post pretty deep. Especially when you mentionned that some of your friendships have gone cold because of your writing.. WOW! That hit hard, Lord have mercy. Thank God for the courage He's given to you and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you're pursuing what you love to do because in the process you're blessing some of us readers!

    Okay, I'll stop before I go all philsophical and all.

    THANK YOU!

    :-)

    Hugs,

    Ganise

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    1. Oups, that would be : you're being a blessing to us.

      :-)

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    2. Thank you, Ganise! I'm glad the post had a bit of a punch to it today! I love when they resonate with others. Thanks for stopping by today! :-)

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  11. Loved this, for so many reasons. :)

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  12. I can totally relate to this post. I'm definitely a closet writer. Most people in my life don't even know that I write a blog, let alone that I write fiction. I even keep the fact that I occasionally go to writing classes a secret. And I know what you mean about some people who don't understand what writers gain from writing, because those types of people only view writing as risky rather than as pleasurable.

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  13. It took me years to come out of my writing closet, but when I celebrated my 65th birthday two years ago, I said, "That's it! Here I come!" I published my first book, Lady and the Sea (novel based on a true story) last year and I'm having fun making new friends that don't know that I've ever been in a closet of any type. I don't care what anyone thinks, says, or doesn't say, at my age I'm just going for it! Thank you for your honesty, as it is really the only way us writers can survive ... being honest with each other. I wish you smooth sailing and oceans of blessings!

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  14. Jody,
    This was never an issue for me. I've been out of the closet since college. I was a journalism major and worked for newspapers for 15 years. When I left the newspaper industry I missed writing and that is when I made the difficult transition to fiction writing. My mom and my wife have been incredibly supportive. They think it is neat to have a writer in the family. I will say they are naive about the publishing industry. They assumed I would write my novel, land an agent and get published. Not so much. They also could not understand why it took me five years to finish my novel. Sometimes I think the closet is a better place to be. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

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  15. I came out to 1 friend and shared a story I was working on years ago. She loved the characters and the story and encouraged me to keep writing. I'd never taken writing classes, never shared my work with anyone else before that - if I hadn't gotten that ego boost from her, I never would have had my very first short story submission accepted for publication.

    Most of my friends & colleagues know I'm writing a novel now. Why do I keep apologizing that this is my first novel, that I'm still learning the ropes? I can't wait to publish it, but I have a bit of dread about it, too.

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  16. I was definitely a closet writer, forever! Some closest to me knew I wrote, but I don't think that most folks realized how serious I was about it or what it would take to get published. Now that I am published some folks don't know how to deal with me...kind of strange. Some folks are awed and other just look at me like "that's nice." I'm still sort of a closet writer, at least in "real life"...online it is a different matter putting myself out there...out of my comfort zone. But I enjoy making the connections.

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  17. Oh, and something else. I NEVER allowed anyone to read anything I wrote until I was in print (except for my editors and crit partners).

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  18. I'm in and out of the closet. While I have achieved modest success with my articles and book reviews, I have been unable to find an agent or publisher for my two novels. I'm still sitting on the fence regarding self-publishing. At my last birthday, a good friend gave me an ultimatum: Put one of those books out there before October 2013. I'm being forced out of the closet.

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  19. I enjoyed reading this post and the comments, particularly because I'm not like this at all. I'm really extroverted and talk to anyone who will listen about my writing. I think that's been a useful marketing took in itself, because now that I've finally published my debut novel, many people I know are curious to see how the book actually turned out. Sometimes I think my problem is I spend too much time talking about writing rather than actually writing!

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  21. You took the words right out of my mouth. Like, literally. I was just having this conversation with my husband last week. He is the only person in the WHOLE WORLD who knows I write. I do go to a writing group but it feels like a secret life and I make sure they never come in contact with my friends or family. It's ridiculous, and it becomes very lonely (and probably why I blog).
    My husband couldn't understand my reasons (I'm going to direct him to this post btw because you've explained exactly how I feel) and after trying futilely to explain it to him for a whole afternoon I finally said, "You know what it's like? It's like being gay in the 1950s." Which sounded insane even to me, but also completely true.
    And you're right, people DON'T understand, and they don't see writing the way they would see other hobbies or interests.
    Maybe it all comes down to having confidence in yourself, which I definitely lack, but I can't see myself coming out of the closet any time soon.
    Sorry about the rant, I'm just so pleased to have come across this post this week! (I also read your post about internet distractions, and I agree, but if there was no internet then I'd feel even more alone than I already do in my writing life so I'm glad it exists)
    Thank you!
    Em

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    1. Hi Em,

      So glad the post came at a good time for you! If a secret writing life is helping you become a better writer, then I wouldn't worry about it now. Enjoy the time of growing and writing. And then someday, when you're feeling closer to publication, you might start stepping out a little bit at a time. :-)

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