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Are You Holding Yourself Back as a Writer? Take Your Seat at the Table

becoming a writerAsk any writer, and they’ll tell you the same thing: becoming a writer is hard work. And if writing is hard work, building an audience who appreciates your work is even harder.

So what’s holding you back from building your audience? You already know what you need to do to grow your blog and authorship platform. You’ve read the posts and attended the webinars. You’ve already put your best effort into your website and free offering.

Thre’s just one missing piece: you need to forge strong relationships with top writers. You need to stop going it alone and start becoming a part of the group.

By now, you know that writers don’t ‘make it’ in isolation. It doesn’t work to toil away in online obscurity, hoping that someone will swoop in to be your promotional Fairy Godmother. What does work is to facilitate heartfelt connections with writers you admire, people whose missions align with your own.

It makes so much sense, doesn’t it? When you read the posts and watched the videos, you feel jubilant. All I need to do is make friends with some ‘big players’, connect with them, encourage them, help them promote their work. Then, eventually, I can ask them to consider sharing my best work, because it will help the people they serve as well. It’s a win-win!

You wrote “make connections” atop your to-do list. Maybe you had a step-by-step itinerary, filled with great ideas as to how to go about doing that.

What’s Really Holding You Back

The only problem is, you’re not reaching out.

Not on a sustained basis, anyway. Sure, you do a little ‘connecting’ here and there, but only when it’s convenient (or when you’re feeling audacious). You wouldn’t drive two hours to attend a book signing and meet a favorite author in person; you wouldn’t pitch a major blog. Deep down, you know that your efforts aren’t enough to build momentum. But after all, you say to yourself, I’m a writer. I should spend all my time writing. This socializing stuff is distracting, and I have plenty to do already.

That sounds so mature and reasonable, doesn’t it? Oh, the lies we tell ourselves to cover up the fact that we’re afraid. But how can we dispel our fears and make those vital connections? What’s the missing piece to becoming a writer?

In my experience, it’s figuring out what specific story you’re telling yourself.

The Story You Need to Rewrite

What’s your limiting story surrounding those influencers you don’t dare approach? Your limiting story (also known as a self-limiting belief) is a narrative that prevents you from living into your true power and potential. And if you’ve never taken the time to actively revise it, it’s still doing its insidious work, draining your confidence and minimizing your contribution.

Here’s your step-by-step guide to uncovering – and overcoming! – your limiting story.

The Generalized Other

First, explore your “generalized other”. The generalized other is a social science term that refers to our mental audience, the people we imagine are opining on every move we make. As Martha Beck, Ph.D., writes, “Your generalized other is actually based on a mental magnification of just a few people, often the most judgmental people you know.”

Case in point: on the eve of my first ebook launch, I found myself tense and panicky. I wasn’t stressing over whether the links would work or whether the book had typos. Instead, I worried that people would mock my attempt. Who did I mean by ‘people’? When I asked myself that question, my mind took me back to a group of girls from my childhood dance class. Until that night, I had no idea that my “generalized other” consisted of a few middle-school girls.

That night, I wrote: “I used to love dance class. The studio felt like a magical place. But then I got older and I got glasses and I started feeling like an outsider everywhere, even at dance class. I hated wearing my glasses there. The ‘popular’ girls were in my class, and I stood on the outskirts of their conversations. I didn’t know how to talk to them. Something I used to love – dance – was fraught with embarrassment and exclusion.

I love writing …. But I’m scared to share my book because I’m afraid of being rejected. I don’t want it to be like dance class. I’m afraid of being laughed at. I feel like a little girl, standing on the edges of the dance floor, feeling like no matter what I do, I’ll never belong.”

Once I realized the nature of my generalized other, I could begin to shift my thought patterns. (After all, it seemed pretty crazy to give those long-ago classmates so much power!) Instead, I focused on words of encouragement from supportive friends, clients, and mentors. I created a Praise page for my website, and seeing friendly faces helped dispel my fear.

But what happens when you face a new challenge and the fear comes back in a different disguise?

That Familiar Sense of Self-Doubt

Once you’ve identified your generalized other, the next step is to sit with the feelings of discomfort and uncertainty that arise when you consider connecting with ‘big time’ writers. When you have a clear, visceral sense of how you feel, ask yourself: when have I felt this way before? You’re looking for a memory that stings. You’re scanning for the people in your past who – intentionally or not – disparaged your contribution.

This year, when I considered submitting big-time guest posts and inviting fellow writers to guest post at A Wish Come Clear, I kept running into internal resistance. When I sat with it and asked myself when I’d felt this way before, I uncovered a long-buried memory.

This is the story: there were 6 numbered tables in my kindergarten class, all with different colored chairs. And one day I decided that table 3 – the table with the royal purple chairs – was the one for me. The ‘cool’ girls sat at table 3, and I wanted to sit with them. I had a purple dress. I had the self-confidence of childhood.

So I mustered up my courage and asked to sit at table 3 when there was an open seat. And for whatever reason, the answer was no. I walked back to table 6, where I’d been sitting before. I sat down in my ugly, orange chair, feeling the first twinges of shame. I was too young, too naïve to hide my disappointment. It was my first social rejection.

Though I didn’t realize it until this year, the memory of those girls kept me from ‘sitting at the table’ with my fellow writers. When I listened – really listened – to myself answer the question, “What’s holding you back?”, it wasn’t technique or talent. It was Table Number 3, and the lesson my younger self internalized: Don’t ask for what you want. Don’t try to belong; you’ll only fail.

Yet the story I was telling myself about isolation and exclusion was outdated. A simple read-through of my inbox told me that much. Rockstar bloggers like Danny Iny, Glennon Melton, Rachel Macy Stafford, Gretchen Rubin, and Jen Gresham have offered me so much – glowing recommendations, personal encouragement, guest posts, real friendship – yet even so, I feared that I didn’t belong with them.

That’s where the third step comes in.

Pick Up the Pen

Become a writer. Rewrite your story. Give yourself a different cast and a new ending. Focus on what’s true today, not what happened in the past. Focus on the people who love and support you in your work. As Pamela Slim writes, “If you dig deep and redefine your Everybody, you just might find there is a nurturing, supportive conspiracy to lift you up.”

Today, I’m choosing to see that my dreams have already come true. As a first-grader, I longed to be a writer, to encourage others with stories – and that’s what I do every day!

Furthermore, I’m building relational bridges with my favorite writers in an authentic, reciprocal way. Had I not questioned the lies I was telling myself, I would be missing out on so much.

Now, I’ve recast those big-time writers as friends, current and potential. Friends who will hold a seat open for me, friends who will open the door, if only I’ll dare to knock.

What’s your limiting story? What’s holding you back from reaching out to connect with your favorite writers? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Caroline McGraw

Caroline McGraw is a recovering perfectionist and self-employed writer. Download her free ebooks for more on forging the real connections that are absolutely essential for writers seeking to grow blog and authorship platforms. You can also connect with Caroline on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

30 comments

  1. Writer groups can really help with the problem of feeling disconnected from other writers. The one I’m in has been meeting for years now, every month. Others never meet face-to-face, and work effectively as well, using web, email, and skype-based interactions. For ideas about where to find people for a writer group, see our writer group’s page on that topic: http://baccaliterary.com/finding-the-right-people/
    I really recommend giving a writer group a try!

  2. It feels a bit strange being the first male to comment. Your post really hit home, it’s what I’ve been dealing with all my life. To date I’ve found 2 tools of absolute importance;
    1) Being sick and tired of the status quo. The desire to change is of the utmost importance.
    2) Searching for the tools and techniques to help me change. It’s true – I find what I look for.
    Also I’m learning that there is only one cause of failure – quitting.
    Thanks for your post. Your style caused me to read every single word.

    1. James, that’s great to hear – so glad you liked the post! And I really appreciate your point about quitting being the only cause of failure.

      It reminds me of my favorite quotes is from the Humans of NY Facebook page, which reads: “… if you understand failure, you won’t be afraid of it anymore. Failure isn’t diving on your face, or hitting rock bottom. That’s just being human. You only fail when you decide to not try again. So it’s entirely in your control. Once you understand failure, it’s impossible to fail.”

  3. I guess there’s lot of learn day by day and as I’m not a native english speaker its bit tough to work.

    I guess I’ll check your recommendations.

    1. Vicky, I can only imagine the challenge of writing professionally in a foreign language, and so I congratulate you on learning a bit day by day, trusting that persistence pays off. Best of luck in your work!

  4. Great, Caroline. I’ve just started reaching out to big-time writers. In fact, this week is my third blog post and it posted today on Facebook and NOBODY has liked it. I feel physically ill, but I keep telling myself that the # of likes isn’t the point. I’m putting myself out there and that’s what matters most.

    1. Thanks, Marcy! And oh boy, I know just the feeling you describe – we’ve all been there. And what you say is true – it’s great to get Likes, but the real reward is in the creation. I also struggle with the desire to see immediate response, immediate progress.

      What’s helped me tremendously is “The Stockdale Paradox” as described by Jim Collins in Good to Great. It’s definitely worth a read, but in a nutshell, the concept goes like this: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time…you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

      PS – I searched for you on FB, but Mudpie Writing didn’t come up – is your page under a different name? In any case, know that I tried to be your first Like. 😉

      1. You’re so sweet, Caroline. This is where my story gets even sillier. I haven’t had the courage to list Mudpie Writing on Facebook, so it’s just my own personal page….Marcy McKay. I’ll definitely check out Collins’ book. Thanks so much for your post and kindness.

          1. THANK YOU, Caroline for liking my FB page. I did the same to yours + subscribed to A Wish Came Clear. I’m also a recovering perfectionist, so we have a lot in common. I look forward to getting to know you better!

          2. Thanks to you, Caroline, I just made a Mudpie Writing pace on Facebook. It couldn’t be any worse than me posting my blog on there yesterday. I’m sure I still have a bazillion things I need to do, but I have a profile/cover photo. I’m official.

          3. Yes you did!! Way to go, Marcy! And I love your description: “Mudpie Writing provides writers a fun place to fight our creative monsters together.” I certainly like that. 🙂

          4. Yay to my friend March being official! March, I did a long post on DIY MFA that got not. One. Single. Comment. But Bess @ DIY MFA loved it and I know it was good. Trust yourself. Even just a little.

  5. Thank you for your open honesty about your past hurts. The more I listen to people and think about my own experiences your story seems to be a universal secret. Everyone has fears that hold them back. I’ve got so many past experiences, mostly from childhood that tie me down. I remember in 6th grade we read a story and then were to write our own story and read it in front of the class. Everyone wrote a story almost exactly like the one we read. Mine of course was different. I felt like the odd man out. As an adult, God is teaching me that he’s created us to be different. It is our differences and uniqueness that provides us with something we can offer to others, even established writers.
    I’ve been toying with the idea of reaching out to some of my favorite writers and starting a relationship. What’s the worse they can say? “No.” If I don’t attempt it’s already a “no.” Thanks for the encouragement.

    1. Ida, you make such a good point about the ‘universal secret’ – I believe it was Carl Rogers who said that what is most personal is most universal. And kudos to you for reaching out – Jeff Goins has a great post (“The Very Best Way to Get Rejected Every Time”) about letting other people do the work of saying yes or no, rather than rejecting yourself before you even ask!

  6. Caroline – I have to be honest, I’ve been debilitated with fear, in every regard. I didn’t know where my feelings were coming from and I didn’t know how to find them. Your post made me realize that there may very well be something hidden deep down that I haven’t thought about for a long time.

    I need to spend some time thinking about this. What a great post!

  7. Brilliant, Caroline. Thank you.

    My kindergarten experience was being denied a skinny bendy pencil by the banker’s daughter because I was a farmer’s kid. Strange how these things take root.

    You’ll be hearing from me at your blog soon.

    Oh, and McGraw is my maiden name 🙂

    1. Thank you, Angie! And what a succint-yet-powerful story … it is interesting how these moments are rooted in our consciousness … perhaps in part because we’re so young, and we haven’t learned to process them differently?

      Glad to connect with you here, and I look forward to hearing from you again soon. 🙂

  8. I loved your post, who doesn’t have their own “generalized other”. While reading at your post, I could see their faces, lol. Then, I can kiss the goodbye and say hello to all those “supportive others”. Great!

  9. Hi Caroline –

    Thank you for such a tremendously thoughtful and honest post! I just realized last night that it has taken me so many hours to revise and edit my free e-book, that I’m embarrassed to share it here! Why? Because I am still a practicing perfectionist. Some day, I will join you in recovery.

    I will have to really dig into my brain to discover the true nature of my fear. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

    1. Laura, you’re very welcome … and I can certainly relate to your hesitation at sharing your ebook! From one perfectionist to another, I hope that your Freebies page goes live soon – I’m actually working on another free offering, so I feel your pain … I’ll go live with mine if you’ll go live with yours! 😉

  10. I was the girl from country with the funny accent. Your piece has given me the courage to reflect on what’s holding me back and I found it. For years I wouldn’t face an audience solo even though I did it well in the early childhood years but at 4th grade I moved to the city and the students laughed at my funny pronunciation. Even though I was by far the brightest child in the class I became shy and spoke only when I was spoken to. I have achieved much since but that fear of rejection still prevents me from reaching out to others resulting in my isolation. This in turn limits my audience and therefore my success.

    Thanks for a well written post.

    1. Veronica, what a powerful story! I can certainly see how that early experience shaped your present fears – brava to you for being brave enough to identify it and share it here. Go get ’em!

  11. Hi Caroline
    The older I get the more I realize that those feelings I thought were mine alone are common to everyone. Your story of the purple table so links to one of the things that limited me for years; in fact, I think I’ll do a post about that myself. Thanks for the idea.
    Often we are told that wisdom comes with age and that seems to be somewhat true. I have had a lot of experiences, for sure, but the thing that age brings as well is courage. Maybe it’s just that the years remaining dwindle the further along the treadmill we go and, sensing that fact, we espouse that “if not now, when” mantra.
    Whatever it is, I’ve learned that it’s up to me. If I want it, I have to go for it and I’ve become much more fearless than I used to be.
    Thanks for a useful and inspiring post.
    Elaine

    1. You’re most welcome, Elaine! So glad to hear that the post spoke out to you. And I like your point about age & experience teaching you courage. Not everyone is willing to learn, but I’ve also found that the longer you write, the greater the sense of, “Why not try for more?” Best of luck with your work!

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