Is it weird to feel shame after publishing?

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about feeling shame after publishing…

A recent post on the website Lit Hub featured five writers talking about what they called the weird shame of publishing a book.

When I’ve had my own work published, my primary emotion tends to be fear. Fear about the typos I missed. Fear about the stupid mistakes I’ve made. Fear about what I might have left out.

For me, I think this fear was born after a half dozen years in an unsupportive corporate job where I had a boss who would blow a gasket way too easily. (She was especially preoccupied with errors in print, especially small ones.) My colleagues and I would roll our eyes about how silly — and unproductive — our mutual fear was.

But while I’ve not experienced shame myself, the words of the authors quoted in the LitHub post carried the ring of truth. Here, for example, is what writer Emi Alabi said:

“My debut poetry collection Against Heaven almost died of shame. I had to fight shame just to write each poem. I was so ruled by shame, I didn’t even notice I had a full-length collection. Shame almost stopped me from sending it out. Shame almost made me withdraw it from my first round of submissions.

“When it was accepted—very quickly, and for an award I didn’t think it could win—shame stalked this book throughout the revision process, making me doubt every impulse that made the book work in the first place. Shame convinced me everyone had made a mistake, or had an ulterior motive, or was so dulled and overworked by the pandemic.

“And then I was so ashamed of my luck that I felt gross even celebrating this temporary admittance to a club I swore to bust up. And then I felt so sick and ashamed of my shame. How stupid and exhausting, all of it.”

Shame and fear should not be part of the experience of writing. Instead, we need to remember that these emotions thrive in secrecy. The author of the post quotes Brené Brown wrote, “The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”

Thanks to my friend Maureen, for forwarding this link to me.

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