Someone once told me that standup comedians have balls of steel because they go onstage every night and commit emotional suicide. They put themselves in front of people, encourage those people to laugh at them, and hope they actually do.
In a way, I think writers do the same thing. We want to tell our stories, we want people to read those stories, but many of us -- and experience suggests I can safely say most of us -- are scared to death of the same thing. This is probably part of the reason most of us have only a passing acquaintance with sanity. Baring your soul for all to read, being simultaneously afraid they will read it and they won't read it, can make anyone nutso.
But we choose this path because we have a passion for writing, and as with any path worth following, it has its difficulties. I wouldn't trade being a writer for anything. Still, there are moments when I want to curl up under my desk and hide. I'm pretty sure most writers have been there, done that.
So how do we keep ourselves reasonably sane? Well, we all have our methods, and I'm going to share one of mine.
In the very early days of my career (which would be roughly the beginning of 2009), I opened a Word document and titled it Ego Band-Aids. Into this document, I pasted a compliment someone had given my writing. It was just a little thing, probably something that would have seemed silly to anyone else, but it meant a lot to me, so in it went. After that, anything that came my way that made me feel remotely good about my writing went into that document.
There were times I caught myself thinking "this is dumb, why would anyone save this comment?" But then I reminded myself this file was for my eyes only. No one else ever had to see it, so what did I care? I still have those self-conscious thoughts once in a while, but to hell with it. It's my file.
In the early days, it was mostly comments from friends and crit partners. Once in a while, a rejection letter even made it in. You know, when it was "This isn't right for me, but I did like X, Y, and Z." Then came editor comments. Editorial reviews. Reader reviews. I've copied and pasted tweets, blog comments, reviews, Facebook comments, instant messages... you name it, it's in there. After three years, I'm not ashamed to say I still add to it.
Okay, Lori, but what the hell is the point of this? What does one do with such a thing?
Well, I can't speak for every writer out there, but I have days where I feel like I completely suck. Sometimes it's just my own insecurities -- and I do have them -- getting the best of me. Sometimes it's a critique that stings a little. Sometimes it's an e-mail from a reader. Hell, sometimes I'm just having a bad day for no rational reason. Basically, I have my ups and downs like everyone else, and my Ego Band-Aids file is there for the down days.
I won't even deny it: Sometimes, I shut out the world and spend a little time reading that file. There are days when I just need to read a page or two and it gets me back in working order. There have been times when I've read the entire thing, start to finish. It's not so I can preen and feel like I'm God's gift to writing, it's just to get myself back into a good, rational head space so I can keep writing.
So for those writers out there -- whether you're a novice cutting your teeth or a multi-published author-- who have moments like this, a similar file might help you. No one else ever has to look at it or even know it exists. It's there for you and you alone.
We're in this business much the way standup comedians are in theirs: we go onstage, we put ourselves out there, and we hope the audience laughs at our jokes.
At the end of the night, there's no shame in going backstage, unwinding, and thinking about all the times the audience did laugh.
Because if we made them laugh once, we can do it again.