Guest post by Barbara McDowell: Rehab for writers in hiding

Barbara McDowell

Today, I am ticked pink! I know…shocker! But seriously, I am thrilled to welcome my long-time (since the very beginning if you can believe it) blog buddy, Barbara McDowell, to my digs. At her blog, Life Can’t Drive 55, Barbara posts about a variety of topics such as her musical inspirations, writing journey, the quirks of life and longstanding addictions for all things dancing, performance, reality TV shows and boy bands. Barbara’s confessed that In Sixth Grade, She Wanted to Be a Go-Go Dancer and She’s Like the Runaway Bride When It Comes to Class Reunions. Some other faves include 7 Things To Not Do While Driving, and Who Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up? Her Rants from an Idol Addict posts are a hoot and provide keen updates from her now 11 seasons of watching American Idol. She also recently wrote a touching tribute about Don Cornelius, the founder of Soul Train. Do make sure you pop over to check out Barbara’s blog. She’ll welcome you in and pass some dark chocolate.

Take it away, Barbara!

Thrilled to be here, Natalie! I appreciate you for letting me wander in from the winter winds.

I am a short story writer, budding novelist, blogger and occasional poet. But as of six months ago—when I went into writer rehab—without seeing me in a class, at a conference or me telling you, you wouldn’t have known it. See, I’ve been a writer in hiding.

I know I’m not the only one. I’d point out some others to you, but see…they are still in hiding. There are places we all meet to cavort in our masks. The locations vary and the times are preferably when popular reality TV shows are on so others are at home and no one sees us.

Some of you may be thinking, “you poor thing, why would you hide your creativity and life spark?” *stopping to accept some hugs and gather the tissues* Well, one doesn’t set out to live in hiding. It is born out of listening to some limiting beliefs from others and embodying them as your own. It is a progressive thing that seeps in and grows. And the limits become fears. And the fears become habit.

I come from a family of science and math types that, while fascinated by my vivid storytelling and on-stage antics, didn’t believe there was a viable future in someone being a writer or performer. Yes, some may become stars in these fields, but I was told to be more practical. First limiting lesson learned: Writing isn’t practical.

So I told no one I wanted to be a writer.

One thing I do have going for me is an independent spirit (hello, true Aquarius over here) and stubborn streak. I wiggled my way through elementary, middle and high school as a quiet writer. I thrived in English classes and spent my time in Biology and Algebra filling notebooks with my poetry.

Moving on to college, I made my first run out of hiding. Insert a minor in creative writing paired with some scarfs and head wraps, and I thought I’d be a writer. Then a guy I dated would come over and find me sitting on the dorm room floor, scrawling away in my composition notebook with Hendrix playing and incense wafting. I fancied myself to be a generation too late, displaced hippie writer. He’d always make a crack about what I was writing. The fact that I was writing. Next limiting lesson learned: Writing is silly and people will mock you.

So my non-writer friends never saw my writing.

Then came death by English department workshop. Let’s throw a mix of sheltered, self-absorbed, emotional 18-22 year-olds into a circle and move the critique switch to “go.” And it wasn’t lost on me that most of the time I was the only minority in the room and since that minority was black, the expectation soon became that I’d channel either a Cosby Show or Cops sensibility with no leeway in between.

No, my parents aren’t doctors or lawyers. What do you mean a suburban setting isn’t realistic? Yes, I am writing what I know. No, I’ve never seen a drive-by. Yes, I could write about one, but I’d have to go do some research. Okay, I get that you want to hear some slang, but that’s not my native tongue.

And being a horror-leaning writer just made it worse. No love lost there. Next limiting lesson learned: You must write what others expect.

So I lost my voice and there would be periods of time that I didn’t write a word.

Once I made it into the work world, writing was relegated to a dusty hobby. I had a file cabinet organized with poetry, short stories and essays that never saw the inside of a submissions envelope. I worked wicked overtime and went back to school to earn an advanced degree. When I would write and fall in love again with the process, I’d feel like I was stealing time away from more important work. Even when invited to join a writers’ group, I compared myself to the others and felt like an imposter because writing wasn’t regular in the full balance of my life. Plus I was writing short stories versus novels. And I wasn’t published. Or I wasn’t writing full-time. More limiting lessons learned: Just writing isn’t okay. Real writers are published. Real writers write full-time. Real writers write books. 

So what does rehab for a hiding writers look like? For me, it needed to be a mental (distracting the voices with brownies) and physical (just do it!) change.

Steps to come out of hiding:

  • Call yourself a writer – Yeah, pretty simple concept there, but how many of us let the external and internal gremlin voices keep us from doing this? A huge ah-ha came for me when I tapped into the blog and then books of Kristen Lamb. One of her gems is when she said that when asked what we do, we should answer that we are writers. If we lead with telling about our day gigs and then mumble about being a writer, then writing will forever be relegated to being a hobby and having a secondary life role. Kristen has a way of facing off with the inner fears and making them quiver. I’m telling you go pronto to her blog and learn!
  • Let people find you – You know the main reason no one was commenting on my early blog posts? I didn’t tell anyone they were there. Writing by its nature is a solitary endeavor, so the boom of social media has provided so many avenues to make connections. When I joined Twitter, the doors flew open. Determine what social media tools work for you and then use them.
  • Join up with some online writer communities#MyWANA is a great starting point on Twitter to find like-minded souls that are both rock stars and former writers in hiding. The folks networking there will inspire and challenge you. Other great places are #ROW80, frequented by those participating in the A Round of Words in 80 Days challenge and #WriteCampaign, used by those doing the Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. All great peeps.
  • Go to conferences – Don’t just go. Tell others about it. Heh, heh. Seriously, keeping immersed in the craft and sharing the time and/or travel with others shines a light on the importance. When I shared I was going to the Kenyon Writers Workshop last summer, a colleague commented “why would you want to waste your vacation time at a conference?” Once I got done telling her why, I felt bolstered by the importance of spending time for my writing.
  • Invite others in – I’ve done this by joining in conversational tweets, dialoguing with people in blog comments, e-mailing and asking others for help and most recently hosting some guest bloggers.
  • Flash people! (cough) I mean do guest blog posts – This was a huge fear of mine. The inner voices of doubt contradicted as they wondered what if no one comes to read it and what if everyone comes to read it. There is a sense of vulnerability in putting your words and thoughts onto another person’s site. But I tell you, it is so freeing. People outside of your circle will not only see you…they will see you as writer.

I won’t shoot up rockets and sparklers and tell you that the process of embracing my writing life was instantaneous. Remember what I told you earlier about my stubborn streak? What I can tell you is that working up the courage to move towards being the writer I know I am meant to be has been worth every step.

Thanks again for having me, Natalie! I hope everyone enjoys the post. You can always find me at:

Visit me at:
Follow me on Twitter at: @BMcDowellOH
Read my recap articles on season two of The Voice at:

Is your writing life and personal life fully intertwined? 

Do you write content or in a genre that others find unexpected? 

Have you ever felt pushed to write something else?


Barbara McDowell

By day, Barbara McDowell works in training and development, managing the educational needs and course development for the staff of a regional accounting firm. In the depths of the night, she is a crafter of stories birthed with dark, human themes. Suspense at each corner turned. Terror sometimes waiting at the end. Initially a short story writer, Barbara is in process on her first novel that focuses on the twists of redemption and forgiveness. A lover of coffee, cats, crime dramas, crochet, conspiracy theories and chocolate, Barbara can be found blogging at or tweeting at @BMcDowellOH.

Thanks so much for coming over and sharing such a wonderful and open post Barbara. I think there are so many of us out there, me included, that can relate to your experience. I am still finding myself struggling to “put myself out there” as a writer and I haven’t fully intertwined my writing life and personal life fully yet. It’s coming but slowly. In reading your words and experience, I draw a great amount of comfort, support, strength and inspiration. You are forging the path and I am right there with you.

We are writers, here us ROAR!

P.S. In case you missed Monday’s post where I spotlight author Elena Aitken, you should definitely check it out. There’s a great giveaway!



  1. Squee!!! Dancing around (yeah, you love pink and I love to dance) and giddy to be here, Natalie! Yeppers, we’ve been blog buddies since “back in the day.” Heh. 🙂 Glad my post resonated and thanks again for letting me share it.

  2. Awesome, awesome, AWESOME, post. 🙂 I, too, was a writer in hiding. I emerged late last year, announced it on Face Book, reasserted it to the hubby and threw it out there. I still have a way to go, but I’m trying not to hide any more. Well done!

    • I love it! Another hiding writer bursting out! I’ve found that once I make one step that the next is a touch easier and so on. Love that you mentioned Facebook. I just started sharing some of my blog posts there. I made a “writing sharing” group list and don’t show all my friends (coming out of hiding is a process), but I’ve pulled in a good bit that aren’t writers. Thanks for the compliments and your comments!

  3. Barbara, I loved this! What I journey you’ve had. You are rockin’ the writer thing now, girl! Thanks for re-motivating me; I’m not a “hiding” writer, but I do get those “looks” when folks ask what I do and I tell them (esp. since I stay at home and do it. Can you say, “no income”?) This week has felt like writing through mud, but we all go through that, don’t we? Good luck with your projects, and thanks for hosting, Natalie!

    • Oh, I can only imagine the “haters” looking or muttering when you tell them you write full-time. It is a catch-22 with some people having an idea that writers should toss aside the trappings of the world and dedicate their lives to the craft and others thinking someone is crazy if they do so. I know you are rocking it, Kathy, and that there are so many things that we all can relate to as writers. I was writing in a pile of mud last week to the point of making mud pies. Heh. Thanks for the comment and for sharing!

  4. Great post that a lot of writers can relate to.

  5. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    I agree with you, Barbara. When I was young, my parent’s were involved with local pageants. Every year we would sponsor a beautiful and talented senior girl. I knew I could never be Miss America because I have no talent. I can’t sing. Can’t dance. And I’ve never seen anyone painting for their talent. When I finally realized this was what i wanted to do, I didn’t tell anyone either. I think everyone of my friends were shocked when out of the blue I published a book. I still have a hard time saying, “I’m an author.” I’ve just recently become comfortable enough to say, I’m a writer. (Baby steps.) Anyway, great post!! And congrats on your first guest post. And we are fellow Aquarians. (We’re awesome and creative!!)

    • Aquarians are so awesome! Now don’t you other signs get mad. This is just statement of fact and love. Bwahahaha. Plus, we’ve got a way cool theme song written all about us. But I digress. 🙂

      Oooo, I haven’t said I’m an author either, Jillian. I’ve seen people speaking about using writer versus author. My head thinks author and demon gremlin voice goes “author? right, you haven’t written a book.” It is baby steps and undoing thoughts. I sometimes talk about getting out of my own way and I don’t mean that to beat myself up. Just that I can make things way more complicated. So glad you are getting more comfortable with your writing life, Jillian! You rock as a blogger as well. 🙂

  6. Very inspiring post Barbara! It was very difficult for me to “come out” too and it’s taken years for people around me to see that this isn’t a hobby or something I do to “fill the time” Yes, I’ve had someone actually say that to me.

    Even the staunchest of my supporters still glaze over a little when they ask me questions about how “the writing is going” but I love them dearly for asking and for at least attempting to understand.

    However, you did struck a nerve in your post. I write time travels. Most people know I write books with paranormal elements but I rarely ever say TIME TRAVEL. LOL. I think it’s because people think of me as this earthy, fun, grounded person and I can easily imagine the quizzical looks I’ll get. You know what? You’ve inspired me so much today that the next time someone asks, I’m going to throw it out there. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ll probably break out in a rash but I really think that’s the last hold-out of hiding my writing. I’ve integrated the personal and the writing up to that point — it would be so cool just to let it rip. I think…. see? It’s hard. Good for you Barbara for refusing to hide your creativity and your writing side and for reflecting so beautifully on lessons learned.

    Thanks Natalie for hosting Barbara. All the posts you listed of Barbara’s here today have been my favorites too — plus she did one on Fearlessness and Courage that touched my heart. I need to go read that one again. Sorry this is so long…

    • ((Hugs)), Kate, for the “fill the time” comment. Ugh. For people that are not writers, their view of what a writer is might be influenced by what they see in front of the curtain—books on the shelf, author interview on TV, book signing, success, etc. They don’t understand the life work that goes into it. They don’t see the years it took for something to be written, edited and put through the pipeline. They don’t see the rejection letters that come as a short story heads out for acceptance.

      I’m giggling that you haven’t been saying “time travel.” Let us have some true “hiding writer” confessions today! 🙂 I love that you are going to now embrace the words and put it out there, Kate! Yeah! A part of my hiding was also wondering what people would say when they asked what a story was about and I told them the content. Would they think I was as disturbed as my characters? But what we write is what we write. It is our voices and it is what inspires us. So we shall own it.

      And no apologies needed for a “long” comment. Heh, heh…I say that on my buddy Natalie’s blog because I’ve done it myself. She’s cool peeps and won’t kick us out. *passing her some dark chocolate covered strawberries*

  7. GREAT post, Barbara! I especially agree with step #1 – call yourself a writer. So many writers hide and are afraid to tell anyone what they do. I also agree that going to a writer’s conference and meeting fellow writers and learning the craft is one of the best things any writer can do. I came out of my shell after attending DFWcon last year – where I met Kristen Lamb and started blogging and tweeting.

    GREAT post! Thanks for having her over, Natalie!

    • Yep, number one was a huge process step for me. I had to get pretty honest with myself about treating my own love–writing–like a hobby. Hiding in a cocoon and wishing I had more time to do it when the power of prioritizing was all up to me. Love that you got to go to DFWcon! I’ve heard such wonderful things about it and to meet Kristen in person must have been the best. Thanks for the support, Tiffany!

  8. Love love loooove this post! Natalie thanks so much for having Barbara here today… I often refer to myself as anything BUT a writer… I am trying to change that. I am really hoping to get to a writers conference this summer. 😀

    • Hmm…okay…doing some support group help: You are a writer, Darlene. Hey everyone, Darlene here is a writer. Darlene, the writer, is also a blogger. Darlene writes. Writer Darlene. Hi, my name is Darlene and I’m a writer. 🙂 Better? You no longer have to hide that spirit. Conferences are fab, but if you can’t make one, I’ve found that local or online classes are great networking avenues to meet other writers and hear new perspectives. Thanks for commenting, writer Darlene!

  9. This is so awesome, sistas! I love how well you both work together. But of course I love love love every and each of your, Barbara, and your, Natalie, posts – I always read them, even when I don’t leave a comment (hard to type on my iPhone).

    Calling ourselves writers before we are even published is a key. This simple technique steers our minds in the right direction. We build a list of expectations for ourselves and get serious about achieving goals.

    The social media community involvement is crucial but it has to be done right. Kristen taught us well – we are so lucky to have her and to have our amazing (!) wana group.

    • Ah, Angela! You are too sweet and one of the best cheerleaders/supporters/networkers I’ve met so far on the journey! You hit it with steering our minds. We make action and succeed on what we put our minds to. So, so glad I took Kristen’s class and started learning how to both use and balance social media. I would have been a lurking or spamming fool had I not. Heh.

  10. I certainly understand being crushed in a CW class, though my problem was the instructor. He started the first class saying, “You can write about anything you want, except…” He then proceeded to list everything I enjoyef writing and reading. Yeah, did *wonderful* in that class, let me tell ya.

    Took several years and falling on hard times to find my way back. That and my wonderfully supportive DH.

    I’m glad you’re writing again. Keep at it! 🙂

    • Sorry you faced the lists of “shoulds” in writing class. Been there with an “important” department instructor once telling the entire poetry workshop group about what he expected to be coming in from me. Paint target on head right here. I’m glad you’ve bounced back as well and are thriving, Virginia! 🙂

  11. Coleen Patrick says:

    Recovering writer in hiding here! This is GREAT advice Barbara!
    Natalie, thanks for sharing 🙂

  12. Love you, Barbara and Natalie! But then, you already knew that. I especially love that you had the courage to admit to yourself that this is what you really want to do. How many people get defeated and give up their dream because of other lame-o’s? You didn’t! I always knew I’d be a writer and back in the 80’s I was hanging out at a party and told some guy in a band that I was an aspiring writer. He basically said what Kristen did, aspiring is for pansies. I think he freaked me out because I didn’t write again for about 8 years. Okay, so I got married, divorced, married, pregnant, divorced, and married again in that time, but hey! I should’ve been writing. When I finally did sit down and start putting my book on the laptop, it still took another two years to call myself a writer. Even then, I’d giggle each time I said it, like I was a huge fraud and they’d laugh at me. Know what? No one did. A few might’ve snickered, but I just made them into characters that I could kill off slowly. 😉

    Keep writing, my friend. You ARE a writer.

    • Oh you are a wise, wise soul, Tameri! 🙂 You are right…no one laughs. I so get the freak out you mentioned and periods of not writing and feeling of being a fraud because I wasn’t a “true” writer (insert all the made up rules of what that meant). I do think that one has to be ready to get past the self-limits and the idea of being “aspiring.” We grow to believe in ourselves.

  13. Absolutely awesome, amazing post. I had to work so hard to get beyond my beliefs about ‘creativity’ and being a writer. I was okay with my writer friends but not my family or friends. too weird.thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one with this problem

  14. Thank you Barbara for the great advice and encouragement for the, as of yet unpublished writers in the world. Some in my family view me as having two heads because I want to write, I do write and I blog, tweet(only started recently), go to writer’s conventions and belong to a fabulous writer’s group. “You’re not a writer if you don’t have anything published,” has been said to my face. In the past, this would have discouraged me, but I’m older now, retired, and tired of the emotional vampires who suck the dream from your soul. My reply to them is, “I am a writer and I will get published, but if I don’t, who cares. I’m learning to spread my wings and fly. Have a great day and thank you Natalie for sharing this

    • Amen, Marie! You are a writer now. For short stories at least, a writing professor told me getting published is part being a good writer and part a numbers game (how often and what you are sending out). There are so many avenues for publishing that it will come. We write because that is what we long to do. That is where our talent rests. That is where our passion soars. May the emotional vampires no longer grip at your dreams.

  15. Sorry Barbara and Natalie that I am late to the party. I have a houseful of family visiting and I snuck this moment to my computer and wanted to say how much I appreciated your guest post today. Or was that yesterday? Whatever. Wow, how many of us struggle? How many of us fear putting ourselves out there. I can say one thing. Barbara, you have been so supportive of me, and Natalie too, and I have really appreciated it. I may sound confident, but deep inside I’m a big chicken. A squacking big chicken. Oh, I’m being called back into the kitchen. Must go, but you did an amazing job Barbara! Thank you so much for sharing your feelings with us. It made me feel better. 🙂

    • {{Hugs}}, Karen! For your kind words, admission of “chicken” stuff (heh) and for the houseful of family. Family is great. A houseful? Busy, busy, busy.

      The chicken or fear thing freaked me out too when it came to my writing. I think I’m naturally wired with an element of my strength and the rest I’ve learned and developed from life experience. So facing up to these simmering second-guessing thoughts and long-held beliefs took a moment. I mean, I’m confident right? Why could I have no issues standing up on a stage giving a presentation at a regional conference yet sit simpering at the keyboard or spend hours (yes, hours) muttering over edits on a piece to send out for submission then end up sending nothing? It was all those negative life lessons whirling in my head.

      You are a great support in the virtual world as well, Karen! So glad you had a moment to come and share your thoughts.

  16. What an inspiring post! I really relate to writing in a genre that surprises some. In my case, thriller. But it makes total sense to me that you lean toward horror, Barbara—darker tales, to me, are the most inspiring. And you’re an inspiring woman!

    Thanks for letting us into Barbara’s world, Natalie. 🙂

    • Thanks, August! I appreciate the compliment beyond words. So glad the internal fears that used to hold me back, and that I then beat myself up for having, are inspiring to others. It makes the journey so worth it. Shout out for writing thrillers too. Those are an up-the-ante on pacing and twists and turns. 🙂

  17. Elena Aitken says:

    I’m late to the party, Barbara. BUT Great post!! I love that you’re out of hiding. I’ve dealt with a lot of those limiting beliefs myself, and it takes a lot of courage to burst out. Good for you and thank you for sharing!

    • Now you know one of my life theories, Elena–it is never too late to party! 🙂 I love your work and your process and it is inspiring to see how you are thriving now. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. 🙂

  18. Great post, Barbara! I’m glad you’ve come out of hiding. 🙂

  19. Love this post! I’ve always been lucky in terms of family support – my mother and father always believed I could make it as a writer, but I somehow convinced myself of each one of your lessons (writing isn’t practical, writing is silly, etc) throughout college until I basically gave up, until recently. The hardest part of admitting I’m a writer has been posting my blog to Facebook for all of my “normal” friends to see… but you are absolutely right, doors really start opening when you let people find you! Thanks for your wonderful insights!

    • Oh–shudder–I’m relating to you on Facebook, Stacy! I’m slowly coming to terms with it via sharing on FB with writer friends and a handful of regular friends. I created a “writing” list and do selected shares of my blog that way. I didn’t advertise it though so I think some people are missing the posts if they aren’t immediately seen in their stream. Since I’m still a little uncomfortable with it, I’m fine with that for now. I’ve always liked FB as a more conversational, occasional sharing place with friends versus constant updates. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      • I relate to both of you on the Facebook front. I still don’t post my blog posts to Facebook. Although a lot of my blogging friends are now my Facebook friends so my posts are more on FB than ever before and I am…not having an anxiety attack surprisingly. LOL Slowly but surely, I am definitely putting myself out there more and more just like you both inspire me to do so!

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  1. […] I shared on Tuesday, today I’m guest posting at Natalie Hartford’s Life Out Loud blog.  I’ve known Natalie since my early starts as a blogger and she has been both a friend and […]

  2. […] Barbara McDowell guests posts on Natalie Hartford’s Blog with a superb piece on Rehab for Writer’s in Hiding. […]

  3. […] Blog three times a week.  Four done plus two ROW80 updates.  Two were way cool guest post opportunities via Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City and Natalie Hartford’s Life Out Loud sites.  If you missed them, please do check out We Want to Make You Scream: Writing Horror and Rehab for Writers in Hiding.  […]

  4. […] week, I spoke in my guest post on Natalie Hartford’s blog about how joining in online writers’ communities helped my coming out at as a writer.  One of […]

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