I once heard Peter Carey, two times winner of the Man Booker, tell Phillip Adams on ABC’s Late Night Live that the week before a new book comes out he can find himself curled on the floor in a foetal position, terrified.
Soon after, I read another astounding comment, this time from Helen Garner in Making Stories by Kate Grenville & Sue Woolfe:
Some days I look at what I’m doing and I think: This is pathetic. How can I have thought this was any good? That’s when the bottom drops out of everything. Some days it’s so awful I have to put my pen down and lie on my bed, or go to the movies. I feel like a phoney; an appalling phoney and someone’s going to find me out. I’m going to be exposed. . . that’s my fear. They’ll say: who wrote this? She calls this a book?
What astounded me about these comments from The Luminaries wasn’t just that THEY felt like this, but that they admitted to feeling like this.
So when I heard Brene Brown address the questions of vulnerability and shame in her Ted Talks it felt as if she were speaking directly to the writer in me.
Shame is what Peter Carey and Helen Garner were feeling.
Shame is internal. It’s that feeling we have that we’re not worthy. Is there something about me that if other people see or discover it they’ll know I’m not good enough, or clever enough, or imaginative enough, or creative enough, and all those other things of which we don’t have ‘enough?’
And when we get rejections or bad reviews it just confirms our fear that others think we’re unworthy, too. It doesn’t seem to matter that we know publishing decisions can be made on economic grounds – eg. our story is good enough but it doesn’t fit in their line-up, it’s harder to sell an unknown author, Virginia Woolf sent in a manuscript on a similar subject yesterday, the publisher doesn’t think novels with boats in them sell (true story!), etc.
Brene Brown says shame is the fear that we will be disconnected from others. She says we’re neurologically wired to connect to each other. It’s why we’re here.
When I thought about this I realised how fundamental it is to me that I connect to my readers through my writing. My writing is my way of sharing something that is important to me. Usually it’s about the human condition because people fascinate me. It might be some funny thing I’d noticed, a destructive trait, an inspiring deed, life’s ironies, a deep insight into why we act, believe, think as we do. I’m most proud of my stories which have touched other people. These are the stories, I realise now, which formed a stronger connection between the reader and me.
Sometimes I write purely to connect to myself. It’s how I learn what I want to say or what I think and feel. I have boxes of journals full of my attempts to make sense of me, the world I live in, the things that fascinate me, and the people in my life. Don’t worry, You-Know-Who-You-Are, I’ll burn the journals before I go. My creative writing almost always comes out of the ‘journalling’ process.
And aren’t blogs an attempt to connect with other people all over the world? We make ‘friends’ in online communities. Whenever I can I participate in Friday Fictioneers, a group who writes 100 word stories from a photo prompt. We give each other the encouragement and constructive criticism writing needs. But by putting these stories online we are exposing ourselves and our writing to people we may never have met, or are even likely to. Yet the act of making ourselves vulnerable to them builds a strong sense of ‘belonging’ in these communities.
I’ve noticed that the bloggers who are the most open and honest, who write from the heart, who don’t seem frightened to show their vulnerability, attract the most views and seem more connected to others. Dawn Quyle Landau’s blog Tales of the Motherland is a privilege to read for her heart-warming insights and her refusal to shirk the hard questions. Read the heart-felt post My Funny Valentine and see what I mean.
So am I right in thinking acknowledging our vulnerability in our writing will make our readers feel more connected to us? Brene Brown thinks so.
In her research she found people who are able to cope well with their feelings of shame have a strong sense of love and belonging, and more importantly, believe they are worthy of love and belonging. It’s not that they don’t feel shame, but they don’t feel it as an excruciating vulnerability that can be debilitating. She also found that the thing that keeps us disconnected is our fear we aren’t worthy of connection.
Brown looked at the people who were most successful at connecting to others and discovered they shared these qualities:
– The Courage to tell the story of who they were with their whole heart.
– The Compassion to be kind to themselves, and others.
– To allow others to see their vulnerability.
– The willingness to do something that carries no guarantees. To invest in things that may not work out.
She concluded that while vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and struggle for worthiness, it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love, and belonging.
How can we apply her findings to our writing?
We can encourage the willingness to invest in writing that has no guarantees. Even on those days when it all seems pointless and the writing is abominable. Because if we don’t keep going, nothing better can come.
We can show more kindness and compassion to the writer within us who can feel so vulnerable at times he wants to curl up in a foetal position, or lie on her bed.
From our own reading we know we relate most to writing that is honest and straight from the heart. It takes courage to write like that, to let our vulnerability be seen. But if the result are authenticity and a deeper connection to our readers, and ultimately to ourselves, then what are we waiting for?
Who knows, we might even get closer to believing we are enough.
Watch Brene Brown’s Ted Talks.