Thursday, January 31, 2013

Virginia Woolf, Insecurity, and Me

The other day on Twitter the following exchange took place:

Jaye Robin Brown (@JayeRobinBrown) "Oh wow. Random moment of insecurity. Anybody else (writers) get those?"

Me (@LauraSAndersen) "The question is do I have any random moments of SECURITY :) #neuroticwriter #notacliche

I have not been able to get that exchange out of my mind. My reply was written with the tone I bring to most of my social media posts: ironic, cynical, lightly humorous.

But that tone is not the whole of me. It is not even the majority of me. In truth, I am a mess of insecurities and fears and guilt. I go to bed Every. Single. Night. and list the day's failures. And I'm not just talking about my writing. In fact, I'm not even primarily talking about my writing. Not that I don't have writerly insecurity. At least twice a day I am convinced that my first book will fare so badly upon release this summer that Random House will pay me to go away rather than publish the next two books they've contracted for. I pre-write the bad reviews in my head that I'm sure are coming--'shallow characters, no sense of place, historical fiction with no history to it, and also the author is ugly and dresses badly.'

But you want to know my true fear, the one deep terror that underlies all of these fears?

I fear that no one will like me.

I don't say that very often because, let's face it, strong women are the order of our day. And it's not very Strong Woman of me to care so much about what people think.

But I do. I care desperately, at a soul-deep level that is not amenable to rationality and logic. Intellectually, I am fine with making my choices and living with them. I will be the first to say that I can only do the best I can do and that no one knows my life better than I do.

But my heart is a stubborn creature, and so is my fear. Underneath all my logic and firm talking-to, there is a newborn baby who was placed for adoption at birth which--absolutely and without a doubt--was the very best thing that could have happened to her. But that newborn baby was familiar with precisely one human being before her birth and that human being was not there to hold her in those first days. That newborn baby is not amenable to rationality--all she knows is that People. Leave. And that baby's instincts say that maybe, if she is very, very good and never causes a moment's trouble to anyone, she can Make. People. Stay.

In the last week, I found myself blindsided by someone's opinion as to the suitability of a book I had recommended for book club. She took exception to certain parts of the book--which is certainly her right to do--but worded her opinion in such a way that I felt as though I was defending my moral character because I like the book. I was hurt way out of proportion to the importance of the episode and not because this person is My Reading Judge or The Fount of All Creative Knowledge. I was hurt because she hit on my most vulnerable spot: the voice that whispers in the dark: What if you're wrong? What if these aren't the books you should be reading--or writing? What if your advice to the woman in a bad relationship is epically bad and she ends up hurt? What if your parenting decisions with your teenagers lead them to more unhappiness? What if, fundamentally, those closest to you are only tolerating you until you cause so much trouble that you're not worth it any longer?

(Told you neurotic writer is not a cliche.)

Honestly, I shouldn't be rambling on at all. I should just be pointing you to a brilliant blog post that Becca tweeted earlier this week. Robin LaFevers wrote about the price of stripping ourselves for our writing and the cost of being genuinely vulnerable. She wrote:  And therein lies the true power of negative reviews and harsh criticism: it stings not because the people who dole them out mean so very much to us, but because they give external voice to our deepest held fears and suspicions—that even all in, we’re not enough.

(Read the entire post here--she says everything much better than me.)

One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Virginia Woolf:  "It is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others."

And you know what? Taken all in all, I wouldn't change it. Sure, I wish I didn't get hurt by random weird opinions. I wish that all my reviews to come will be brilliant and supportive. I wish I didn't live so much in my head and have such a hard time getting out of my own way.

But if I were different . . . would I be a writer? And if not, then wouldn't the cost be too high?

To wrap up this post of quotes with one more that has long guided me: "Nothing is harder than being a true novelist unless that is all one wants to be, in which case everything else is harder."

So I'll live with my fears and insecurities and worries and cliched neuroticism--because not being a writer would be ever so much harder.


  1. Open, honest and vulnerable! I think many more people feel like this than ever give words to it, theat's why we need writers! Amazing piece, Laura!

  2. I want to give you a big old hug right now.
    And I know adoption can do that whole primal wound thing, but it's also true that many, many more of us feel this way.

    My go-to way to be is steely and snarky and I don't need anybody, which in itself is my own coat of armor for the worries.

    It's hard being human! And a creative human, even harder!

    (I can't WAIT to read your book because I love anything to do with Henry VII)

  3. I like you. And I think you are awesome exactly the way you are. And even though I don't go to book club (books--aren't those what one indulges in pre-children? or was that exercise?), I think you have excellent taste in books both as a writer and as a reader, and I will happily bop on the head anyone who suggests that your moral character is lacking because of the books you select for book club. My only request for improvement on your part is that you stay healthy, or at least coordinate with my sick-baby schedule, so we stop missing each other at church.

  4. And THIS, Laura, is why you and I are friends. Well, one of the reasons. I think Random House just might buy this post from you.