The very first thing folks in my blog workshops want to talk about is this –
“If I start writing about myself, start telling people about what happened to me, about what I think or feel or believe, then people will criticise me/judge me/hate me/not be my friend any more/ridicule me/reject me.”
They’re terrified of the tribe, and what they will think.
Every time, in every workshop or conversation I have about writing, every person I’ve ever know who feels the push to write or tell their story thinks this thought about the tribe, and believes it. They believe it so deeply it stops them from ever beginning on the journey to telling their story, or even just writing about the things they love, believe or are passionate about, including vast areas of expertise they have, learned experience they’ve lived or even gross injustice which needs addressing.
For some reason, most people think if they begin to tell their truth, to write about their stories in a place where people might actually see them, traffic will screech to a halt in the streets. Buses will run off the road and planes will fall out of the sky. The moon will shift off it’s orbit and fall to earth. The apocalypse will begin and it will be all their fault.
I remember this feeling.
The day I wrote and published my first blog post a few years ago, I thought everyone in the whole civilised world would see it, be absolutely horrified, and act accordingly. I thought all my friends from church would never speak to me again, the pastor would call me up and invite me in for a “chat”, my kids friends parents would tell their kids not to talk to my kids any more and the people at my work would stop looking me in the eye. I thought I’d be put on some secret blacklist of troublemakers never to be allowed to succeed in the world at anything ever. I was afraid everybody would read my blog and know my deepest and most intimate stuff, and that would be it. My world would collapse, everyone would see me, and would be so absolutely disgusted with finding out the universe included a creature as loathsome as me they would lose the will to live and all drink poison.
But this one day, I pushed through. I decided what I wanted to say couldn’t wait to be said, and it was time someone said it. I decided to have a little more faith in my friends and in the world, and in the power of my story. I dared to believe my story might even help others, and rationalised this might make the price of my inevitable shaming and ostracising kind of worth it.
So I wrote the blog post. I poured my heart out. I wept tears of fear and relief as I spoke about how I hated my husbands alcoholism, how I saw it like a junkie lover he’d invited into our house, who had her claws into him and wouldn’t let go, no matter how much I begged him to evict her. I spewed out all my vitriol and my anger and my grief at our ruined marriage and his ruined soul.
Then, I waited. I waited for the tribe to pass down a verdict. I steeled myself.
And to my surprise, planes kept flying overhead. The pastor didn’t call. Nobody even acknowledged I’d purged my guts in a public arena for all to see. It took me a little while to realise the “all” I’d been so worried about seeing my bared soul hadn’t seen anything. I checked my blog stats. Nobody had seen my blog post – literally.
That was when I realised when it came to my writing my heart out, telling my truth and purging my soul, nobody really cared.
The tribe I was so worried about didn’t actually give a shit.
And to me, this was a good feeling.
After a while, despite my soul-nakedness, my honesty and my wilful vulnerability, everything was still all right, including me. I realised it was actually going to be very hard work getting people to actually look at my blog in the first place, and most people who did were looking for exactly what I was writing about, and were symbiotic, not critical. And not many folks from my actual tribe – my friends at church, the other parents from my kids school, my workmates or neighbours or anyone else I knew – could be bothered reading my blog anyway. They were too busy worrying about their own problems.
I kept writing.
Don’t worry about the tribe. Just write. Just tell your story.
I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield’s book Turning Pro this weekend, and this chapter reminded me exactly of what I‘ve just described. From now on, whenever I teach writing and blogging, right at the start I’m just going to put this particular chapter up on a power point slide and go for a coffee.