Shame Will Shut You Down


The Heart and Craft of Writing


Lesson Info

Shame Will Shut You Down

Shame, as a writer, will shut down your writing process. This is possibly more true for memoir writers than for fiction writers, you know? But I think it's true across the board, and I think because writers, we're always drawn from our own experience, to a certain degree, no matter what we're writing. I mean we are locked in our own minds, you know. I think that shame is one of a host of emotions that rises up when we're in the process of writing. And it's just like what are you gonna do with it when that happens, you know? I think that when we're writing and kind of a powerful emotion, a big feeling, I have a three year old, so when you have a big feeling, come up, it's usually a sort of hot point, you know? It's usually means something kind of juicy is happening. You want your readers to have big feelings while they're reading your book. So if you're having a big feeling, that's kind of good. So, maybe you just need to like push the chair back, take a breathe, figure out what are you...

going to do with this, you know? How can you work with this emotion? You don't want it to become a sensor to your work, you know? I think that the wrong thing to do is to say like, "Oh god, I don't wanna put that in there." You know, maybe you don't wanna put it in there as is, but maybe you want to think about this feels really electrified, how can I work with this situation to give it, to bring it's energy into my work, you know? So, I do think that it's a good thing. I remember I was at an event where Dorothy Allison was speaking, she's one of my favorite writers. Probably one of all of your favorite writers, she's so amazing. And somebody had asked her you know how did you become so fearless to write all of the things that you write. Because her work does leave a very vulnerable, she writes about, just a lot of things that maybe would provoke shame in writers if they were kind of looking at these situations and she said, "What makes you think I wasn't scared?" You know, she was terrified writing these things, but she wrote it anyway. So, that's part of our job as writers is that we're getting in there and we're looking and we're experiencing extreme emotions, you know? And we're trying to find a way to then translate them to a reader. So, I would say, you know, really be aware of what happens to you emotionally when you're writing, and another reason why it's great to have literary community, other writers understand these things, you know like, if I didn't have a literary community and I only had like my mother, then it would just be like well why are you writing about that anyway, you know? Then don't write about it! (laughs) But other writers understand that those are the things that compel us as writers. You know, those are the places that we want to get into, usually. And they can give us support while we're writing stories that can be really emotionally challenging or emotionally provocative. I know you're all writing comedy books and so none of this pertains to you, right? So, take what you can and leave the rest. You talked a little about having some awareness of when you're feeling that shame come on, but how do you know when you're in sort of this general shame versus when it is part of the process and then do you have specific tools where you're like, "oh, there it is," and that you, that have helped you or other people in the community? Well, I think that when you're writing and you're feeling some sort of emotion like shame comes up, I don't even think it's important in that moment to know, like, is this shame I should be feeling or shouldn't be feeling or is it, I don't think that's important. I think that what I'm thinking about is how do you not let that stop you from writing. Like, I think if you actually, to me, I find, and I'm gonna get into this more but there's two different kind of parts of my mind. There's my writing mind and my analytical mind, they're not necessarily the same. And if I start trying to analyze my feelings, I'm not writing anymore. And I'm not even in that writing space anymore. And that flow is gone. And what I'm saying is that the shame or the emotions that come up while you're working, they don't need to get you off your track. But I think the way to make sure that doesn't happen is to just try to work with them as they're coming up. Remember, this is your shitty first draft, it can also be your shameful first draft, you know? Put it into your story. You might cringe as you write it. You might be thinking, "I actually don't want anyone to ever read this." It's fine, no one needs to read it right now. Just get it on the page. You can look at it later, you can then make a more kind of clearheaded, cool headed decision as you're editing. You know, something that's actually too much, it's too revealing, I'm removing it. Or, I'm gonna just change this up so that people can't, who were involved don't know it's about them, or there's all kinds of calls and edits that you can make to make yourself feel more comfortable if you remain uncomfortable. Or you might look at it later and be like, "Damn, that was very brave of me, "I'm gonna keep that in there. "That's, I can't believe I did it, that's amazing." You know, and there's no right or wrong. Like it's fine to also have limits and boundaries about what you want to share about yourself. But, I just think that at the moment that you're working, you want to just keep working, you know? So anything that comes up, just try to work with it, write through it, put it on the page and just remember you don't need to keep anything. Like, nothing that you write is gonna stay there unless you want it to stay there. I also feel that way about, you know, name changes. You know, if you're writing memoir, I do recommend changing everybody's name. And doing a better job than me when I change my friend Ally's name to Tally. She was like, "thank you, "nobody knows that's me." So, (laughs) but when I'm writing, I just use everybody's name. Because, again, it just throws me off to stop and be like, "what's the perfect name for this person?" You know, 'cause I'll just pick Tally and leave it in there. Just, you know, put their real names and whatever you can go back and you can change it all. You can do one of those sweeping changes on your computer. But yeah, I just think that you just you wanna just keep writing. And so, a lot of that for me is just figuring out what knocks me out of my flow and how can I work with it when it pops up and not let it knock me out of my flow. 'Cause I'm actually, in spite of writing a bunch of books, I'm not that disciplined. I don't wake up at a five in the morning and sit in my cork-lined room and ask to not be disturbed, you know? It's like, I'll go for a long time without writing, but when I do write, I've learned how to just go and just do a huge barf, you know? I just barf my story out, you know? And then I'll go back and I'll tinker with it and I'll perfect it. But, to me what's really important is just to have a bunch of uninterrupted time where I can just get it all out. So, that's my process, and everyone's is different. I know that for sure.

Class Description

If you’ve embarked on the process of writing your first book, there’s a good chance that you’re struggling a bit. Books are big, unwieldy creatures, and even the bravest of among us can feel overwhelmed by the thought of filling all those hundreds of blank pages with intelligent, effervescent words.

Award-winning author, editor and teacher Michelle Tea offers this class to help you believe in your abilities as a writer, stick to your goal and push through that first draft. She’ll outline some of the key tricks to writing a great book and inspire you to produce the vibrant, sparkling and unique work that’s inside your head and waiting to come out.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Be specific and avoid vagueness.
  • Bring your five senses to your writing by including sound, light, scent, texture and taste in every scene.
  • Find your pacing: write slow, write strong.
  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Build your unique voice and create a shelf of voices you wish your voice to be in conversation with.
  • Keep your editing brain away from your creative brain.



What a wonderful class! Michelle is knowledgeable, authentic, generous and open-hearted with her experience and advice. She offers a genuine sense of validation and practical tips for new writers. I especially liked her thoughts on how to carve out a space for your writing.