Nearly a year after I wrote about wanting to take more and bigger risks in life and with my writing, I still haven’t taken as many risks, or as many big risks, as I think I should have by now. (Just try to diagram that sentence.)
However, I’m further along in my understanding of why I haven’t taken those risks yet. This is progress, right?
There are lots of inspirational articles and posts out there about how to take risks in writing: write in a new genre, submit work for publication, query an agent, have your characters express your innermost unpopular viewpoints, use the power of vulnerability, etc. “Be authentic,” “your story can make a difference in someone’s life,” and “you’re not alone” are frequent themes. And there is truth in that.
There are also lots of horrifying articles out there about writers, especially women, who have been harassed, stalked, cyberbullied, doxxed, trolled, hacked, fired or otherwise victimized for speaking their minds. Frequent responses: “We will not be silenced,” “stories matter,” and “I belong here as much as anyone.” And there is truth in that too.
What are these topics I’m so chicken to write openly about? Felonies I’ve committed? Political secrets? Celebrities’ medical details? Nope: women’s health, mental health, organized religion, dating and relationships, privilege, corporate culture, and how I really feel about cats. Nothing I would write about could cause an international incident (except maybe the cat stuff), which reminds me of this: a former CEO of a former employer once said (in a leadership training course), “There is nothing you could do here at this site that would seriously damage the company.”
(I spent the rest of the course thinking up ways to do expensive damage. He will never know how close I came in my head to singlehandedly bringing down a Fortune 500 company just because he pissed me off.)
Mostly I worry about limiting my employment prospects, damaging a professional reputation or offending people I respect and whose opinions I care about. Expressing a viewpoint online is like flipping a coin. Tails: if people really knew what I was like or what I thought, they wouldn’t love me anymore. Heads: people love it when I have opinions and admire me when I speak up.
There will always be favorable and unfavorable coin tosses. I don’t want to fall prey to analysis paralysis. But I do want to better my odds.