We all have fears that we need to conquer as authors.
Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, and for some even fear of success.
But for me, it’s fear of judgment – fear of what people will think of my writing and me as a person when they read my books. Do you feel the same way?
On a personal note, my writing is getting darker – or perhaps it was always dark, and now I’m just getting into my stride. After all, Stone of Fire opens with a nun being burned alive on the ghats at Varanasi, Crypt of Bone features the ritual murder of a child in a bone church and Ark of Blood has a scene with ritual sex in a tomb.
The book I have just finished writing, Desecration (currently with beta-readers) is definitely towards the horror end of the thriller spectrum. Within the murder mystery at the heart of the story is a tale of body modification, ritual murder, the art of corpses and a consideration of dualism, whether our physical body defines us. (If you like the sound of it, you can sign up to my J.F.Penn fiction mailing list here).
So I've written dark things before but this is the first time I haven’t censored myself as I write. I've given the dark side of my mind permission to indulge but as I am about to start the rewrites, I find myself on the edge of crossing things out, not because they need editing, but because I don’t want people to read them and judge me for my thoughts.
But then why do we write if not to tackle the fears that others look to us to conquer?
So how do we tackle this fear of judgment?
(1) Use a pseudonym
Many erotica authors use pseudonyms to protect their identities and it's definitely the way to go if fear is stopping you from writing at all. But I want to put my name to Desecration and my other books because part of me wants to acknowledge that these thoughts are mine.
(2) Be strong and steadfast but also surround ourselves with people who understand us.
My husband is fortunately understanding of my desire to visit strange spots when we go on holiday. So in Budapest, we spent our time at the House of Terror where Communists tortured people to death as well as the mass grave in the old Ghetto of the synagogue. In Paris it was the catacombs where the remains of 6 million people lie in macabre underground decorative crypts.
These macabre interests are part of me and so I hope you too can find like-minded people who support your research and career. I can definitely recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors if you want to hang out with people who understand the weirdness of being a writer!
(3) Understand that embracing the shadow side is psychologically healthy
In Jungian psychology the shadow is a critical part of our whole self. Life is not all sweetness and light and there is but a thin veneer of civilization over our ancient animal genetics. Death and fear, violence and sex will always be part of our culture so as writers it's important to embrace that and reflect it in our writing. I am acknowledging the shadow more in my own work, and also feel that when the things we fear are on the page, they have less power over us.
(4) Understand that the book is not you
When people judge your book, remember that they are not judging you as a person. I write of ritual murder, but clearly that’s not what I do in my life, which is mainly spent in libraries and at my computer 🙂 If you hang out on this blog, you'll know I am unfailingly positive and generally very happy! We are all complex creatures, so our work is merely one aspect of our character at a specific point in time.
The easiest way to deal with this is to write another book, because who we are right now changes and the next book is something else again … we morph as our work does, or vice versa 🙂 I find the fear of judgment lessens with every book I put out there, because I can just move on.
Do you suffer from fear of judgment? How do you deal with it? Please do leave a comment so I don't think I am the only one!