Kafka at the age of five

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Consider these statements:

  • No one cares about my stupid, pitiful childhood, and why should they.
  • Expressing anger makes me feel out of control and ugly.
  • The very life experiences I want to draw on make me feel embarrassed and ashamed
  • My private life is none of your business!

All of these have to do with fear of exposure. That fear can take the life out of your voice, and can be a major barrier to overcome.

Obviously novels are fiction, not autobiography, and writers have quite a bit of latitude as far as how much of their own experiences will be used as material. But it can be tremendously helpful to use our “selves” as a starting point and it can be tremendously debilitating to exile our “selves” from the picture.

Cat hiding behind the couch

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I’m not trying to simplify the problem when I urge you to remember that this is why fiction has “characters.”

The characters we invent help us to come out of hiding. In turn, coming out of hiding helps us to create characters.

Creating characters gives us the freedom to expose many sides of ourselves without having to be too vulnerable. You can be all of yourselves and you can be other people too. The beauty of it is that no one knows where you begin and the character takes over. Once you get going, that character might turn into a dictator and push you right out of the story.

She might become so independent… you might learn something from her.

But still, you say, none of this helps. I want to write, and I want to create characters, but I also want to hide under a rock. And when I write, instead of having a voice, I resort to cliché’s like “hiding under a rock.”


  • It takes forever to get a book published so maybe it’s not so necessary to hide under a rock. By the time you actually find an agent who finds you a publisher it will still take at least a year for your book to appear in the stores. By that time your head will be somewhere else and your unfortunate shoplifting episode won’t seem like such a big deal. You confessed, felt ashamed and promised not to do it again and anyway, it’s too late to get arrested.
  • When someone reads about your heroine shoplifting you might assume they’ll assume that you shoplifted. It’s true they might suspect you did but they can’t know for sure, and they probably don’t really care, and after awhile they’ll probably forget you wrote that anyway.
  • While hiding under that rock you’ll probably be with disgusting slugs and potato bugs and suffering from a serious lack of vitamin D so you’ll be totally inspired to write a book about someone who turns into a bug. Just like with the shoplifting, no one will ever know if you actually turned into a bug or if you just stole the idea from Kafka.
  • Maybe the book won’t get published. Then you won’t have to worry about doing radio and TV interviews and book store readings where you might find yourself admitting to what was made up and what was real.
Fear of speaking in public on Oprah

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