I have always loved writing. At the age of about 12 I wrote my first proper short stories, and I wrote what I thought to be my first (on reflection, very short!) novel when I was 13. This was also around the time that I began to write songs, and this continued throughout my teenage years and helped me to develop into writing a lot of poetry: I would often start to writing a song and realise that the lyrics might work better as a poem, so I would then explore the ideas in a new way. Of course, like any writer, a good portion of what I wrote I ended up disliking, or I would find myself in a perpetual state of thinking something was missing, but not knowing how to fix it. This means that a lot of work has only ever reached its first few drafts and then ended up sitting and collecting dust as it remains untouched and unfinished. This is normal for creative improvement, because to be able to produce work that you are proud of it is, of course necessary to write a lot, and not all of your practice can be perfect; however, I have always struggled to accept anything as finished or good enough, and therefore always feared sharing.
The idea of exposing a part of my soul to strangers has always given me a great deal of anxiety. In my writing I pour out my heart and some of my deepest thoughts and feelings, and the idea of sharing that with someone who knows nothing about me brings a great feeling of vulnerability. A simple solution to this, you might say, would be to start off by sharing work with people that I know and trust, who understand me and will not judge me as a person despite what their opinions on the work may be, to build some some confidence to be able to branch out more. When I first started to realise that writing was not just something I do for fun, and that it might be something I’d like to explore further, I did share little pieces of my writing with a few very close friends. But starting to share my creativity with friends didn’t always prove positive for me…
I once decided to share with a friend the fact that I was writing a story: at the time, I was drafting a few chapters of a story, and had been working on the characters and the basic story line for a few months. I got into a conversation with one of my close friends about what I was writing, we shall call him E. I opened up to E about how I often took inspiration for characters from my friends around me, and discussed with him that the main male character in my story was actually, in some ways, inspired by him. Now, clearly I didn’t think about the consequences of sharing this information with E: in my head, all this meant was that certain experiences that I had gone through with him had helped me to see traits within him that I had then woven into my character- to me, telling him was just saying ‘thank you, you’ve helped inspired my writing!’ However, I quickly realised that E immediately took this information to mean ‘that character is me’.
Here is where we had a problem. E took this information very literally and then got it into his head that I was writing about him. It became clear to me that if he were to read my story, he would be thinking that anything I wrote about the character was related to how I feel about him. This was particularly an issue for me on this occasion because the character in question actually became a love interest to the first person narrator within the story, and the idea of my friend thinking that this part of the plot had any correlation to my personal reality horrified me! 😂 The fact is that the character was not E: he was a character that I was learning more about the longer I wrote, whose personality and characteristics had been chosen to craft him into the person I wanted. Just because there were aspects of his character that had noticeably (to me) been influenced by E did not mean that anything that happened to him within the story, or any decisions that he made had any reflection of my friendship or feelings towards E, there were just echoes, if you like, of my friend within the character.
I tried desperately to explain to my friend that he shouldn’t see the character literally as himself, because this wasn’t the case, but it seemed like the damage was done. I see now that it is only human nature; if I were to hear that a character was in anyway inspired by me, I am sure I would read into that character and try to analyse their part in the story in relation to my relationship with the writer, and try to figure out where I could see myself in the character- so perhaps it is natural to take the information too literally, I can’t blame him. In the end though, I then backed out of letting him read the work altogether. I was too scared of his feedback, and how it might lead to complicated conversations afterwards. This experience worried me: sure, it was a mistake I could learn from- just don’t tell your friends if you based a character somewhat on them, sorted, right? But then I began thinking, I wonder if he would have seen aspects of himself within the character even if I hadn’t told him? I wonder if he would have recognised some of his own traits, and still would have read into the character thinking ‘wait, are these things about me?’ Knowing my friend, I actually think he would have, and that only made me think further about whether other friends of mine would see themselves within characters, whether it was intended by me when writing or not, and how this would effect their opinions on my work and possibly even their opinions on me. I think this idea got into my head and prevented me from sharing my work on stories for a while- the fear that any creative work can be interpreted in so many ways is scary when you are someone who has a desperate longing to be liked by everyone 😅
To be brave you must realise that of course not everyone is going to like what you write, but if you are proud of it then the chances are someone else might like it too- and if they don’t, maybe they can teach you something new that could help you to improve. This year my writing has become more heavily leaning towards poetry, in which I haven’t had the same issue about character but very much so about the fear of exposing my vulnerability, and I have also gained a new network of very supportive, fellow creative writers: beginning to share work with them has helped me to realise that the harshest critic is likely to be yourself and that as long as you take confidence in your work, sharing won’t be too scary- it will only help to make you better. The confidence I have gained through sharing some of my writing with these friends is really what has inspired me to create this platform in the first place, to do what I’ve always found so scary and open myself up to potential criticism, but also to growth.
So thank you to all my friends who are so supportive and to those who don’t know me but are still reading, I appreciate it so much. And to E, if you’re reading this, since we are still good friends maybe I’ll dig out that story I wrote: if I’m confident in my character, what’s the worst you can do, hey?