THE BLOG
05/28/2014 11:08 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Writing What Scares You

Victoria Bee Photography via Getty Images

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

-- Sheryl Sandberg

I shared the statement below across my social media accounts:

There's nobody standing over our shoulder saying, "Oh my god! You can't write THAT!" So get over yourself. Write anything you want.

I was shocked, perhaps in a naïve kind of way, at how many people responded, saying things like:

"Well, you've never met my husband/wife!" or "My parents would freak!" or "What would my kids say?"

Let's deconstruct.

Stop Worrying and Write Already!

There's a world of difference between writing your story (be it fiction or nonfiction), and publishing it. It took me years to get to the point of being brave enough to share my story of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a neighbor dad, as well as other difficult events that have shaped my life, yet I still had journaled about it for many years, my soul the only audience.

Like anyone, I had initial fears about sharing such traumatic experiences publicly, for several reasons:

• I worried that people would think I was exploiting my experiences for profit.
• I worried how my family would react.
• I worried about worrying about the worries.

And then I took all those things, locked them in a drawer, and threw away the proverbial key, writing and releasing Broken Pieces the same year.

Write for the sake of writing and ignore everything else. Write in a vacuum. Just write already and stop worrying about something that doesn't even exist yet.

Ignore Everything Else

You have every right to write whatever you want (barring a court order), and even then, you can still journal about it, right?

Part of the process any writer must contend with is: what will others think? But wait...isn't that the point? While we may write in seclusion, we don't publish books in a vacuum. We publish so people will think!

Writers who fear that their parents might not like to hear about their sexual exploits (or religious or political beliefs) are kind of fooling themselves -- most parents already know!

And besides, aren't we adults? (Frankly, the jig is up.)

Use Your Fear

If you weren't afraid, what would you write about? Make a list of at least five subjects. My "brave" list:

• Childhood sexual abuse
• Stormy romance back in my twenties
• Suicide of an ex-love
• Relationship issues
• Depression and anxiety

My list isn't unique. What is unique is that I wrote unflinchingly about those topics, without fear of other people's reactions to my work. It's my story, it's my writing. If people don't like it, that's their problem.

Once you've written your first draft, hire a professional editor (not your Aunt Marge who taught high school English for two years during the World War I). I work with a wonderful structural/content editor, a proofreader, formatter and graphic designer -- those are specialized and I would be doing the reader a disservice to even try to attempt their level of expertise on my own.

(I also have the option of releasing the book through hybrid publisher Booktrope, with whom I signed last summer.)

Every author works differently, and you'll have to figure out your own process. As the author of three books (so far -- working on four and five now), I still focus only on the writing. Spill out your guts there in your first draft (which I refer to as my "word vomit") uncensored, unedited. Do not hold back. Scare yourself.

When you can dig deep to uncover that stinging level of honesty, people will relate to your authenticity. So stop being scared and write the hard stuff. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn't matter.

Accept now, before you even start, that some people will hate it. Then again, some will love it. Write for the lovers.

Strip yourself naked, bare your soul, and be brave. And if your family has a hard time with it, tell them to write their own damn book.

Now, go.

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