OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
You can't write that.
You can't think that.
You can't imagine those things.
You don't have permission to be that person, to think like that, to write like that, to publish that.
You're a nice girl. What will people think of you?
That's my inner critic speaking, but I've also heard those words echoed from people close to me over the years. I think it's only been in the last six months that I have given myself permission to let the raw side of me loose on the page. I'm finally finding my voice.
It's scary as hell because it turns out my stories are dark and twisty, but it's also empowering and liberating to let my mind have a free rein.
But I have to keep reminding myself that I have permission to write. Or I would stay safe in the shallows.
A friend told me the other day that I've changed since I became a full time writer. But I think it's just that the inner me is finally making it to the surface after years of suppression and doing what I was supposed to do.
And how has this change in me come about?
I've been writing journals for 20 years but blogging here for nearly 5 years has changed me far more. Because clicking the Publish button has made me think more deeply about what I want to say.
Because these words are going into the world, and people may well read them.
Because I have met writers who have challenged me to go deeper.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time have witnessed the change as I've shared the journey with all its ups and downs.
Clicking the Publish button on Amazon or the other distributors has the same effect. It makes us braver over time, because we have to keep bringing our best to the page and we get almost instant feedback from readers.
This is the beauty of self publishing, because we don't need permission anymore.
If I hadn't self published Pentecost four years ago, or clicked Publish on this blog, I would still be a miserable IT consultant, talking about writing but not doing it.
If I hadn't persisted through three novels, I would not be finding my voice in the fourth.
If I had asked permission, or if I had waited to be picked, I would still be dreaming of what might have been.
Of course, permission to write and self-publish doesn't mean you'll get it right the first time.
It doesn't guarantee Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking type success.
But it shifts you inside, it forces you to go further creatively. It enables you to clear the way for the next step, and after all, the writer's life is a journey of discovery, not a destination.
So you have permission. You are empowered.
To connect with readers and writers all over the globe.
I'm done with taming the crazy. I'm giving myself permission. How about you?
Please do leave a comment below if this resonates with you. This is our community, and I sincerely thank you for sharing it with me.
This post was inspired by an article on agent Rachelle Gardner's blog entitled ‘Will My Publisher Let Me Self-Publish Too?” which sparked a lot of passionate comment and offended me over the aspect of permission. Rachelle has since published a Mea Culpa article.
Nathalie Riel says
I have had a rough life so far but I have finally found the courage to put a voice to my thoughts and stories. I am very inspired by what I have decided to do. Please check out my web site. I describe myself pretty well there. And like Jack Canfield says, )’I am the upcoming author of Mirror Souls (Surviving a relationship with a Sociopath)” This keeps changing, but I finally got the guts to go after my dream. Some people will hate me more than they already do but Hey! They already hate me so who cares about what they think I don’t anymore.
Nathalie Riel says
I have had a rough life so far but I have finally found the courage to put a voice to my thoughts and stories. I am very inspired by what I have decided to do. Please check out my web site. I describe myself pretty well there. And like Jack Canfield says, ‘I am the upcoming author of Mirror Souls (Surviving a relationship with a Sociopath)” This keeps changing, but I finally got the guts to go after my dream. Some people will hate me more than they already do but Hey! They already hate me so who cares about what they think I don’t anymore.
Lynette McClenaghan says
To write I had to give up classroom teaching which I enjoyed three years ago, but have been able to manage to continue private tutoring. I write dark tales and supernatural horror and have self published a novella, two novels and have a full manuscript for another. The writing is difficult in terms of demanding discipline, but I am finding the marketing and publicity very challenging. I needed to read your article as I often find myself held hostage to gratuitous advice that it is going to be almost impossible for me to make an income from self publishing. Despite writing, what I believe are great books I haven’t managed to sell many.
Betty Horn says
Thanks to all who responded to my remarks. I quit blogging for awhile, but I’m going to start again. I think what I have to say is too important to be left unsaid, even if I’m the only one who cares (but I don’t believe that I’m the only one who cares!) I am taking all your advice to heart and I am learning how to do the things you have said. I have had three strokes, so it’s not easy for me to remember how to attach to blogs and follow them, I know it sounds simple, but it is complicated to me. However, I’ll figure it out!
Anyway, thanks again,
Permission? I know I have to fully give myself permission. I totally understand what you wrote in the beginning about what would people think of your thoughts and imagination that make it onto the printed page. I have 30,000 words into my novel (and keep getting stuck then wasting time), but there are a few words that I wouldn’t want my mom to read (she’s a very, uh, committed Christian). I have to keep telling myself I’m not doing this for her and I – at almost 46 years old – don’t need her approval or permission.
If I give myself permission it’s possible that I’ll be able to get out of my own way and breakthrough this novel to get on to the next one. And publish my children’s book!
Great post, thanks.
Jackie C. says
I am just starting out. I haven’t even written my first word yet, but am writing down instructions on how to write in Word in order to publish an ebook on Amazon. I have so much in my head I want to put on “paper” of my childhood so that it might quit following me around, and at the same time might show someone else out they are not alone I have a hard time figuring out what is the best way to start. When I came across this website, and blog I became so elated I about jumped for joy. I will keep reading your blog, and newsletters. Thank you so very much for your writings.
Susan Gaissert says
Good luck, Jackie! I just finished a first draft of a memoir about my childhood, something I never thought I would accomplish. I have a long way to go, but I’m offering this as proof for you that it can be done!
Oh yes, this resonates with me. I am published, under a different name. A technical book, many legal documents. My current novel is a very large departure from all of that. It turns out I’m a bit dark and twisty also, at least at points. Will I be brave enough to go public with that side?
My dream is to write a book, about my life because. I believe that so many people from different background and race can Identify themselves in the same situations and experiences, I had but, they are either embarrass or scared of what other people might think of them. To be honest with you, I am afraid of what people might think . But I believe these experiences is worth sharing and not staying as just mere memories. My duty is to let people know that they are not alone and it doesn’t mean that they are stupid if they are confused at some part of their life. I have so much to write but having problem as to how to start, and what does it takes to be a writer. I have been searching the internet for answers but, some of my info. makes it seems impossible or just not enough information to help me get started. I have received useful information from your page to help me get started. Thanks.
Jean Reinhardt says
I know where you are coming from. I had a story in my head about two years ago and just started writing it down. That turned into a trilogy and while I was writing that I wrote a short story as an exercise for a writers’ group I was in at the time. Other members said it would make a good play so I expanded it but I don’t know anything about writing plays. One day I heard about a competition on the radio for anyone interested in having an unpublished manuscript that they would like to see in print. So I finished the book, a novella because I ran out of time, and entered it. It didn’t win but I went ahead and published it myself after months of editing. I got a retired teacher to proof read it and put it on amazon. On the amazon UK site it is still a best seller in Irish historical fiction and in Victorian romance, even though it was published in April. I am now working part time as I want to write as much as I can and I am earning more from my books than I am from my ‘regular’ job.
This is all after just two years writing, learning about writing (sites like Joanna’s helped me enormously) and putting in the effort every day, even on those days I have to go out to work. I hope my experience will encourage you to go ahead with your goals. There is nothing to lose but so much to gain.
All the best with your endeavors.
CIndy Yohe says
I am just starting out to write about my experiences of having an eye and hearing impairment. Can someone tell me if that would be considered a autobiography or a memoir.
Joanna Penn says
Check this out: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/memoir-vs-autobiography-2
Tess Coffindaffer says
I’m a very young writer who has written since I was 11, and dreamed about writing since I first saw my sister writing story points in a notebook. This resonated with me a lot. I’m aware I have a long way to go, and much to learn, but this post has made me feel more confident about moving forward. Thank you very much!
Joanna Penn says
All the best with your writing Tess! I wish I had started as early as you – and you might find the resources listed here useful: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/07/20/resources-for-young-writers/ Check the comments too. 🙂
Tammy Moore says
When I was three years old I used to take those old bank paper tablets and a clicky ball point pen and scribble from one side of the page to the other. Long scribbly waves line after line of the page. Sometimes turning the page and continuing to scribble. When asked what I was doing I told my mother I was “writing a story”. I am afraid of thunderstorms and to pass the time I would tell stories of cute little bunnies on a beautiful spring day to my nieces and nephews who were staying with me and my mom. In high school I take a sentence starter and build an entire story around it. One time I wrote a story about a little boy who was in trouble for hitting his sister. He sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and went over the events in his mind. I called it “Runaway”. At the end before the boy could make things right he fell off in the water and died. The classroom erupted in surprised sighs then the questions began. “Why did you kill him off? He knew he had done wrong. He was going to apologize.” At the time that is where my head was. I was so proud of that story because it elicited such a response from kids who otherwise picked on me in school. It made me feel like I had connected somehow. My love of writing didn’t stop there. In study hall while other kids goofed around or read magazines or caught up on their homework, I was sitting at the desk belting out another story. This time it was about lions which in an odd way was what happened in the Lion King. Only my “Scar” was named “One Eye”. It was written long before Lion King was ever a movie. The moment I saw the movie for the first time I felt like I knew it by heart. I would keep a tiny lined notebook in the car with me so when I had an idea for a story I could write it down. Then my mom saw me writing in my notebook and wanted to see what I was doing. When I showed the story to her instead of the smile of encouragement I was given the frown of disappointment. “Oh Tam” she’d say “Why don’t you do something else. This won’t pay your bills.” Now when I put pen to paper or finger to keyboard I hear my mother’s voice with those words. When she died I tried to write again and my niece tried to encourage me. She’d tell me she loved my stories and the one I was writing was so good she wanted to know what was going to happen to one of my male characters. Even that though did not squelch my mother’s voice. Then my best friend’s sister also had the writing bug. She writes differently than I do. She is writing all the time. She even writes in that Nanowrimo thing online. Although I am proud of her accomplishment I’ve asked her to look over my work once. She said she didn’t understand it. That it made no sense. She likes putting me down when she can. Her sister, also my best friend, tells me she likes my stuff more because she can understand it. You would think with encouragement from my best friend and my niece that I would be able to overcome my inner critic, who now speaks with two voices. Then I doubt myself and second guess what I write. Instead of just writing fluidly I stop and start making sure I cross my “t’s” and dot my “i’s”. I miss that writer I used to be. It’s like a part of me is missing or locked away in some vault being constantly pummelled by doubt.
Recently my husband found out he is losing his job when his company is getting outsourced in a couple of years. He asked me to write more now than ever before. I’m terrified I will let him down if I’m not good enough. So I wanted to search online for a place that would help me over come those inner voices. This is a good start. I do have a story that has been waiting to be written since high school before my inner critic began her constant tirade. I have used my wordpad to write occasionally to at least put some of my idea down, to clear my head from this character who wants to have a voice. Nothing comes of it though. I lock him away in a word file on my desktop and there he stays. Still calling to me every time I log on to the net. I am hoping that by visiting this website I will find the tools I need to build a bridge and bring him home again. To write what he wishes to tell everyone. To bring life to his.
Joanna Penn says
All the best with your writing Tammy – it is viable to make a living as an author these days. Check out the resources here for more: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/resources/
Felicia Holloway says
I have been writing since I was 12 and just recently put my first book into the hands of a publisher. I’ve crossed that zone of “what will people think of me if I put this on paper?” My first novel I’m not even sure if I will like for my mother to read it.
I am now writing my second novel, but I feel a little stuck as I feel like I don’t too much about the world. I haven’t traveled as much as I like so I can’t write about a lot of places.
I don’t know a lot about criminology as my second book has quite a bit of crime scenes in it. I read books and watch tv but sometimes that is not enough. I’ve heard people say write about what you know, but honestly, what I know is very boring. I’ve put things on paper that I am actually quite shocked at when i go back over and read it. To me while writing what you know is good for some people, it’s like a safe zone. Writing what you don’ t know is risky as it takes a lot of research.
Any other ideas you can give to someone who is writing about crime/police investigation? I just don’t want it to come out flat. I want it to make sense.
Joanna Penn says
Write what you want to learn – that’s my motto! If you want to write crime, read a lot of it. There are also lots of books on police procedure – make sure its country specific info 🙂 and I would advise you get a beta reader who is either in the police or used to be. I found that invaluable for DESECRATION. All the best!
Omer Farooq says
I am not sure if I am experiencing a mid-life crisis (courtesy of anxiety and ADHD) or whether the years of toiling to qualify as a chartered certified accountant and working as an internal auditor simultaneously to pay the bills are finally taking their toll on me. All I know is that after qualifying two years ago and saving up a bit for an uncertain future, I had decided I couldn’t keep on doing something I didn’t have the hunger for anymore. Popping anti-anxiety pills on a daily basis, braving constant panic attacks and dreading going to work each day didn’t seem like a healthy lifestyle even if it meant I was jeopardizing my career with an explained gap year(s). Most people I know tell me I am killing off my accountancy career and everything else that goes with it. Yet they fail to understand that you can’t force yourself to do something for a long time without adverse consequences.
Someone asked me to go to a one day writing workshop just to clear my head while I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I got to know about Joanna and her wonderful website over there. I’ll admit the amount of information over here is overwhelming at first and considering I’ve not been much of a reader post high school (perhaps due to my ADHD thing which wasn’t diagnosed until a few months back) and the fact that English is not my native language, I don’t know if I can even come up with something that I’d be happy with in the first place, let alone getting it published and making a living out of it.
I do know that despite the near impossible odds of making it, I still want to try becoming one instead of wondering about not doing it a few years down the road. Thank you Joanna for putting up this awesome website and best of luck to everyone!
Raven Von Krieget says
It seriously does feel like people you’re around will tell you that. The “you’re a nice girl,” or the “What will people
think of you?” sounds like something my mother would say when she reads the passion and erotic scenes in my drafts. Though one is based on a young woman becoming a porn star it’s still modest and not trashy yet still my mother would tell me to stop writing like that. Not that I’ll listen especially when it has to do with what I most love and enjoy which it’s to write.
Raven Von Krieger says
Pen name fail, I meant *Krieger not “Krieget.”
Which market should I target with a short story? 1800 words. Should it be in a book form w/cover, or magazine entries? Are there any rights needed?
Tony Ortiz says
I couldn’t agree more. Once I figured out how to get out of my own way, I’ve been more productive in setting goals for myself (actually meeting them) and just loving what i’m doing (even if others may not share in that sentiment just yet). Thanks for your very insightful Podcast which i’m a big fan of.
For anyone looking for some help through writers block and just a general kick in the you-know-what, check out; The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It has been invaluable for me: http://www.amazon.com/War-Art-Through-Creative-Battles/dp/1936891026/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1439829823&sr=1-1&keywords=the+war+of+art
All the best. Keep on writing!
I ve been thinking of writing for sometime . I read Joanna ‘s stop hating your job or find another one and this has helped me to see my life differently and discover what I truly want to do. So thanks for that Joanna.. I am now writing regularly on a daily basis to discover my inner self and really looking forward to putting it in writing…
Donna Vaal says
thank you for this article. It’s completely true how we hold ourselves back from many thInge we are passionate about due to fear. This is my first re attempt to publish and sink or swim I’m so relieved that I’ve taken the chance
John Milligan says
Thanks very much for the above. I’ve just published my first novel on Amazon “The Flames of Jihad” and I wondered as I wrote it: What makes me think I’m able to write a book that people will want to read? I’m 73 for goodness sake shouldn’t I have started writing much earlier? In the end I thought to hell with it if I don’t try I’ll never fly.
Glad I’m not on my own.
Delece Ford says
Interesting article. I have a family member who always criticises my books. Once he did not even open the book, he just looked at the cover and criticised the contents without even reading it. I stopped writing for a year.
Do my books need to improve? Yes they do. We continually need to improve in everything we do, and that is the way we learn and grow.
Thanks for writing this article Joanna, I will get off my butt and write again.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Delece – I know how you feel and my family are wonderfully supportive 🙂 But even the tiniest comment from people you love will hurt more than criticism from others. The most important thing to remember is that our audience are more likely to be somewhere in the corner of the internet than in the corner of our living room 🙂 My husband doesn’t read my books anymore – neither does my Mum – and the rest of them aren’t really readers 🙂 so definitely time to get over it and get writing!
Anne Hector says
Hi – Joanna. I can so relate to some of the above comments. I love writing ( note book & ballpoint pen -just love my own handwriting). Computers have changed all that and I have been procrastinating . It is mostly out of fear. What makes me think that I can write about anything that would interest other people? These and many other questions come up all the time. I’m very happy to have found your website and am inspired to get started. I have always kept journals of my pregnancies, childrens’ birth, ups and downs of married life. Happy and sad moments have all been scribbled in my many journals. Thank you for this website, Joanna.