If you've been following me for a while, you probably know that I have an editing business as my day job. I edit tons of things--blog posts, poetry, erotica, fantasy...you name it. Every once in a while when someone is thinking of hiring me, they ask if I don't like reading about certain subject matter. I've always found this odd since I'm reading their work for editing purposes and not enjoyment, so it shouldn't matter. However, I have never quite gotten the kind of email I received today.
I was being hired by someone who had written graphic sex scenes among other things. I had already skimmed through her manuscript and I was pretty excited to get into it later this week. However, this morning I saw that she had sent me multiple emails telling me that she was no longer moving forward with the book. She said that she basically didn't want people to know she had written something so messed up and graphic.
There's more to it, but to protect her identity, I'll leave it at that.
It was kind of disappointing that she saw something to be embarrassed of when I saw a lot of potential. I was disappointed that someone would let their fear of being judged get in the way of what they were writing. I was disappointed someone had spent time on this story only for it to be thrown out for no other reason than the author not wanting to deal with backlash from an audience.
But then again, I couldn't exactly blame her. I used to be the same way.
For a while now (I'm talking like, a good three or four years), I've had this story stuck in my head that I thought I would never write because I never thought I would be confident to accomplish it or that my audience would accept it. The Dark Contemporary Romance I've been diligently working on since March is that novel, and I plan on finishing and publishing it later this year.
This book is my darkest yet (think Animal but way more twisted). There are adult situations. There is sex and violence. There are scenes that happen that I'm afraid of writing, let alone letting anyone read.
I knew all of this when I finally decided to buckle down and try to write it to see where it goes. I knew that I would discover things about these characters and myself as it unfolded and I wasn't sure I would be okay with where I would have to go in order to tell the story the right way.
But I'm doing it.
At first, I was toying with the idea of developing a pen name. Ultimately, I decided against it. If I write something, I want people to know I've written it, regardless of what they may think. A lot of my readers have asked me for something like this book, and I felt like I was hiding from them when the people that matter are ready to embrace it. It took me a long time to get to this point, and I'm going to share my thoughts on this below. I would be interested to see what others have to say.
When you're a writer--when you choose to write fiction for a career--it's your job to take a mirror and hold it up to yourself and then the reader. You're supposed to find out things about humanity that scare, disgust, please, and entertain you. Most of all, it is our job to make the reader think, and if we aren't constantly thinking of ways to do that, we aren't very good at our jobs.
If there is a story in your head, characters that won't leave no matter how much you try to ignore them, you owe it to yourself to write it. You owe it to yourself to make these things real and examine them and not be scared of what you find or what people think of you because of your words.
We writers know a lot about fear.
Fear of judgement, fear of rejection, fear of our computers crashing without saving, fear of people not understanding what we've written or misinterpreting our messages. We often have these entire worlds in our minds and putting them into book form is like trying to shove an entire civilization into a coke bottle. Getting up the nerve to finally share our worlds with others--most of the time complete strangers--is like throwing that coke bottle into the sea knowing that it is no longer yours, and whatever the person who finds it does with it is out of your hands. You hope they care for your little world as much as you do. You hope they share it and spread the message you are trying to send, but you can only hope. Your control vanished the moment you let go.
So being an author is already scary, and that's with any old "normal" book.
In society, we are conditioned to judge things out of the norm. We are told that women writing or talking or thinking about sex is wrong. We are taught that we don't talk about the dark stuff because it isn't pleasant. We think that sadness is a weakness and vulnerability is something that should be private.
When you write dark fiction or something similar, you have the same coke bottle, but you're putting a label on it before anyone can decide what its contents are. Usually, this works to our advantage: people who like dark stuff are looking for dark stuff. But if your label gets smudged in transit, if someone translates it the wrong way, or if they refuse to read it at all, you can run into trouble.
Our fears are not completely irrational. People will take your little world and make it into something it isn't. They will read the labels wrong and they will hate its people and its rules. They will judge you for ever creating it and they will think that these dark things are inside you somewhere, that you can only get them out by writing and showing them to others, flaunting their ugly appearances in front of people who only want to see pretty words and pretty images.
The thing is, they aren't exactly wrong.
Humans are made of light and dark. Some are on one side on most days, while others let their monsters play in healthy ways and others not so much. Writing for me has always been a good way to get this darkness out and lock it away so it isn't in me anymore. Sometimes it comes out as real problems I've experienced or watched friends go through, and sometimes it comes out as something I never expected and don't fully understand. I've always felt more satisfied when I finish something that comes from the depths rather than something that I pluck from the surface.
Not everyone can look into that mirror you hold up and like what they see. They don't even have to like it. They have to examine it. Some are fine knowing these things exist, that people do certain things and certain things are done to people, but they don't want to look at it up close for prolonged periods of time.
Mostly, when someone criticizes my work based on the subject matter, I try to remind myself of this. It isn't my fault that they didn't like my book, or that they think I'm sick, or that I'm a bad person. They just don't want to see what we hide on the inside. They don't want to be reminded that the darker side of human nature exists, and showing them such things isn't right in their minds.
So what am I getting at here?
You have to do it. If you have story, you owe it to yourself to write it. You have to make it come to life even if its life is a scary and uncertain one. You have to block out all of the people throwing your bottles back at you in disgust and keep sending them out to those who need them. Those who need them find something in your worlds that they wouldn't be able to find somewhere else, and the majority are thankful to you for bringing them into the light.
Fear is something we all experience from time to time--it's part of the human experience, and it's our job as writers to experience everything human within us., whether it's pleasant or brutal.