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IWSG: The surprising benefits of insecurity

We’re often led to believe insecurity is a bad thing. (We even have a support group for it.)

But the truth is, sometimes insecurity can be a great thing. Often, it’s that nagging feeling of insecurity, that fear, which pushes us to grow, to improve our circumstances, to try new things.

I’m in the second year of my three-year plan to build a sustainable career writing fiction. I knew the first two years would be uncomfortable for me, maybe even frightening, as I lived off a loan and poured every available resource I had into a career choice that was well known to be unstable at the best of times. Though I told myself I wasn’t allowed to start worrying until the end of this year, that has been much easier said than done.

More terrifying than anything I’d ever written was the prospect of having to return to an office, of having my creativity repeatedly watered down until it fit into a neat, corporate-friendly box. Of staring at beige walls, enduring endless meetings about nothing, and having to justify my existence to co-workers who had nothing better to do. It was enough to give me hives. Hives, and plenty of nightmares.

Sometimes it’s extremely difficult to keep the faith in this industry. You get a book deal, only to have the publisher shut its doors. You build an amazing relationship with an editor who believes in you, only to have that editor leave or get transferred to a different imprint. You finally land an agent, only to realize they’re not the right fit. Slow sales days, nasty reviews, writer’s block, rejections–there are endless opportunities for us to doubt ourselves, to wonder if we’re doing the right thing.

But then there are wonderful opportunities as well. So many amazing things have happened since I started this journey, among them the discovery that I love teaching, both sharing my knowledge and learning from the students who have taken my workshops and classes. There was a moment during a workshop at the League of Utah Writers’ conference last October that I’ll never forget.

I’d been asked to teach how to create characters that breathe. Unlike my other workshops, this one made me extremely nervous, because my process was odd, to say the least. My characters usually “appear” to me, fully formed, and start telling me their story. It’s my job to keep up with them as they talk, almost like I’m taking dictation. They feel like real people, people who are strangers at the beginning of a book but cherished friends by the end. How on earth would I ever explain this, or teach others how to replicate it? It was too weird, too New Age. They’d all think I was insane. Thankfully, the workshop was held first thing on a Saturday morning, so it wasn’t like too many people would show up.

It was packed.

Many pairs of expectant eyes were looking at me, waiting for me to say something profound. Trying to sound as sane as I could, I began to describe my bizarre process, equating it to the joy of natural storytelling little kids have. About ten minutes in, I dared to ask if anyone in the room had ever written this way, or would even considerate it. I expected maybe one or two people would raise their hands.

But not everyone in the room! One man yelled, “We’re crazy too!” It moved me to tears–I’d found my people.

And this is how I became an instructor at two colleges here at home. My first love and priority is still fiction, but the income, energy, and fulfilment I’ll receive from teaching adults will sustain me during the valleys in my writing career. If I hadn’t been insecure about my prospects as a writer, I wouldn’t have pursued teaching. And if I hadn’t been insecure about my writing process, I never would have learned I’m not that odd after all (well, not in that respect). If it wasn’t for our collective insecurity, all of us at the IWSG never would have met. And what a shame that would be!

Looking back, do you have moments when insecurity has actually been a positive force in your life? I’d love to hear about them.

The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThose who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

60 Comments

  1. I love it when the universe throws us life lines like the one you caught in Utah. It means you’re on the right track. Keep going, you’ll get there! 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Chris. I really hope you’re right!

      Reply
  2. Aloha 🙂 Thanks for this!! I love this. I didn’t realize until I became a writer ‘full-time’ that the way my brain works, and how I write is actually, quite, quite normal. And it was so freeing to realize other people worked like I did. So thank you for this. I love your courage and the way you express yourself here. Aloha Meg Amor 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Aloha, Meg. Thanks for your comment. You’re so kind.

      Glad to hear another writer is my kind of crazy.

      Reply
  3. Brilliant and very *encouraging* post. My jaw did drop when you talked about your characters — I thought that was a peculiarity of my own…but I’m a relatively new (serious) writer.
    I’m still a cubicle slave (as Joanna Penn puts it), but I’m sincerely delighted you found teaching. Nothing like it. Cheers!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Cheryl, and welcome to my blog. I apologize for my tardy reply.

      No shame in being a cubicle slave. Keep at it, and you will find your way out, if that’s what you want. I did.

      Reply
  4. I was there at that Utah meeting! You were great!

    For me, insecurity as a writer is an everyday thing. It can both thwart my writing and keep me writing. But there’s been insecurity in all of my career choices. I’ve come to realize it is just part of the game. I try to remember that my ability to produce is my only real job security.

    Reply
    • JH

      I remember you well, James. Thanks for the kind words.

      Good point about job security. I’ve always found comfort in the fact that I can support myself. That way, the prospect of losing a day job was never terrifying, because I already knew I could make my own living if need be.

      Reply
  5. I’m so glad you answered your calling to teach and that through your honesty, and insecurity, you found your people, your connection. I’m learning that my insecure moment happen at the point of break-through, to embrace it, use its energy, and create.
    Cheers!

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Mary. Always knew we were kindred spirits. Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  6. Loved this! Isn’t it great when you discover other people as weird as you! 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes. Yes it is. 😉

      Reply
  7. What a cool moment to ask the room if they write in the same manner, only to find a bunch of kindred spirits. We are not alone.
    You’ll be a great instructor. They’re so lucky to have you!

    Reply
    • JH

      Aww, thanks so much, Lisa. You’re always so kind.

      Reply
  8. Excellent, JH! Happy to hear everything is working out so well for you!

    I think you’re right about insecurity sometimes helping us, pushing us to do more, to be more. Great reminder!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Madeline. Fear is an excellent motivator.

      Reply
  9. I love it! And yes, that’s my process as well. I think the subconscious is amazing at constructing people from pieces of those we already have met or know. At least, that’s how it seems to work for me. Thus, the more people I meet, the more varied my characters.

    Reply
    • JH

      Interesting, Crystal. I’m not sure if mine works the same way. If I’m using pieces of people I know, I’m well aware of it and it’s a bit of an intentional wink.

      Characters like Jackson come to me fully formed, and it takes me a while to get to know them.

      Reply
  10. That’s one of the things I love about being a writer – we’re all a little crazy!
    Love that you’ve found something that you love to do alongside your writing – it’s always nice to have a lucrative little side hustle going.
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Debbie. For sure. The challenge will be making sure it doesn’t eclipse the writing. I can’t let it.

      Reply
  11. Great post J.H!!! Insecurity, uncertainty are great motivators-

    Reply
    • JH

      They definitely are in my life, Susan. Fear pushes me forward.

      Reply
  12. I write that way too! The characters tend to pop up in my head and just start talking. =D

    Reply
    • JH

      Awesome, Patricia! Glad someone else understands my madness.

      Lately, your link hasn’t been working. I’ve still been able to find you, but it takes an extra step or two.

      Reply
  13. Congrats on the new gig! Also, can you please be a permanent presenter at every League of Utah Writers event? I’m selfish, and this seems like the best way to get to see you on a yearly basis.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Ryan! Re: Utah, I wish. The LUW president did say that he’d bring me in every year if he could afford it, so fingers crossed they make lots of money each year. You can help by encouraging your writer friends to join and participate in their events.

      It was such a great community of writers. I envy what you Utah folks have going.

      Reply
  14. Great post. Inspiring. Loved reading about it. I have not experienced that yet, but times is always moving forward so I think that must have been such a relief and validation. Cheers to you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Juneta. I’m still in shock. I thought it would be a lot more difficult to get official teaching jobs, but thankfully the people who hired me value my experience and knowledge. It is amazing validation, and once some regular money is rolling in, it will be a relief as well.

      Reply
  15. If we’re brave enough to take that “outward bound” journey, we’re brave enough to see it to its end. I’d say you were well on the way to arriving where you want to be. Great job, JH!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Lee. I really hope you’re right.

      Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Anna. What a lovely thing to say. I certainly hope you’re right. I’ll do my best!

      Reply
  16. I am thrilled it worked out for you! I’m lucky that I have a day job that I enjoy and coworkers who keep pestering me to write so they can read the next book. I’m so slow with writing, I would never be able to support myself through it.

    BTW, for some reason my Feedly isn’t updating for your blog. The last one it shows was Jan 3rd. Hmmm. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      Having a day job you enjoy is wonderful. I loved journalism, but corporate communications definitely wasn’t for me. I’m so much happier working for myself.

      In writing, as in all things, the key is figuring out what works for you.

      Reply
  17. I love this! Leaving the beige office walls behind has been my dream for so long, and I’m finally taking the leap. And believe me, there are plenty heebie jeebies about it. So glad you found teaching to be the perfect safety net while you concentrate on your writing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, I hope it will be, Lee. It’s still too early to say whether it will be enough to bridge the gap or not, but fingers crossed. I read your big news and I’m so proud of you and happy for you. It will be scary, but you’ll get through it. I wish you all the success!

      Reply
  18. I was surprised how much I enjoy teaching writing workshops. It’s exhilarating. Good luck with your classes!

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, good to hear, Shannon. So far I’ve really enjoyed it as well. Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  19. Some I do hope to give up the day job and be a successful, full time writer. Not sure I have that same dedication as you did however. So glad its all paying off.

    Reply
    • JH

      Last year was terrifying, Dolorah, but so far this year, almost every day brings good news, a sign that I did the right thing. Which is a huge relief, even though I’m far from sustainable yet.

      It took me a long time of trying to make writing a priority and failing to make this leap. As I saw it,I had no other choice.

      Reply
  20. It is so good to read that your characters usually appear to you because now I know that I am not alone. My characters appear to me also.
    So glad also that you enjoy sharing your knowledge and expertise with others. I want to explore this avenue and share what I have learned also.
    All the best.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Pat. It’s always great to hear that others write this way as well, especially when there is so much focus on the outliners of the world.

      Good luck with your search to find a way to share your knowledge. There are so many different options.

      Reply
  21. Cling to that connection – and that opportunity to share what you know. It will keep you going through all the ups and downs.
    But it won’t be a boring cubicle!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Alex. That’s the hope. If it’s ever boring, that will be my fault.

      I have vowed to never spend a single minute in a cubicle ever again.

      Reply
  22. lol. I love how you learned you weren’t the only crazy one! Great story! And very inspirational. It definitely goes to show that sometimes being insecure and owning it can help you discover something new you were meant to do or someone new you were meant to meet. <3.

    Reply
    • JH

      So true, Mandy. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  23. This makes me so happy for you! I’ve always known you were brave and you took that leap just believing you would make things happen. And you have! So happy that you have something that isn’t soul-sucking to fill in those valleys in your writing career. I can only imagine how warm and insightful you are as a teacher and the thought that your teaching may spawn even more authors positively thrills an avid reader like me. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thank you so much, Nikki. What a beautiful thing to say. So grateful to have met you and have you in my corner.

      Reply
  24. As a follow-up to my previous comment, this post showed up in my Feedly today. So it’s probably just a refresh and caching problem with my browser.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hooray! Thanks for letting me know, Loni.

      Reply
  25. What a heart-warming story! You have accomplished so much last year, JH! You are an example to all of us. You are turning insecurity into productivity and success! I’m so glad that you found teaching as well. Not being in an office, but standing in front of a captive audience, interested in what you have to share is very fulfilling, and it even pays the bills! Wishing you all the strength, determination and “craziness” you need on a continued road to success!

    And, I agree, that insecurity makes us raise the stakes and attempt to provide only the best of our work.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Lisbet. You never fail to be encouraging and supportive, and it’s so appreciated.

      I sometimes feel like I haven’t accomplished much at all, but so far this year has been pretty amazing.

      Reply
  26. That moment when you connect during a talk or seminar is priceless. That’s great you are doing two classes.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Diane. It will probably end up being a lot more than two classes–so far, I’ve already got three scheduled–but it’ll be for two different colleges.

      Reply
  27. I need to meet my mc for my new book soon. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places. He’s out there, somewhere.

    Reply
    • JH

      Is there anything that helps your subconscious take over? Some people find a shower, bath, or a long walk helps. The key is to let your mind wander.

      Reply
  28. Fabulous post. That’s how my characters act, too. When I get stuck, I “interview” them and type their answers. What comes out is fascinating. Best wishes on your goal.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Diane. Glad to hear I’m not the only one.

      Reply
  29. I guess insecurity can be a good thing, sometimes. I think it sometimes keeps us from making mistakes.
    I’m glad you’ve found some appreciation in teaching, and even better, some income. So happy for you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Toi. The trick will be to use the new income for living expenses, and not spend it as soon as I make it.

      Reply

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