Fear is all fine and useful if you’re using it to sharpen your senses and hone your survival skills. But the fear we experience as writers has nothing to do with battling the elements or making it through Christmas with the in-laws.
The fear we feel as writers is couched in personal insecurity and illusion.
It’s when our imagination, which should serve us so well, turns into the enemy at the gates. We have absolutely no evidence for what we fear. We just fear it will happen to us.
So let’s take a moment to look at the terrors that keep writers awake on dark and stormy nights:
People might not like our work
No kidding Batman. Give me the title of a single book that someone hasn’t trashed. Everything from the Bible to the Da Vinci Code has had its critics. Criticize is what we do as a species. That’s a fact. Like gravity. You scared of gravity? No? Then don’t be scared of some people not liking your book.
People might not like it because it really is crap
What if I write my novel and find I actually can’t write at all? – Ooh! The horror of admitting a personal limitation. This is actually a really great awareness to have. If you never have any doubts about the quality of your writing, then you will not strive to improve. Here’s the Catch 22 – for as long as you don’t write, you’ll never improve. Writing is one task that you have to do to get better at. Oh heavens above, this sounds so obvious. And when you say it to yourself, you know it’s obvious. But when you’re in the midst of writer’s block the obvious often seems coated in cryptic. So do this…. first, write for the bin, second, for a month or two, or however long you like, do nothing except write a personal journal or emails to friends. Now, when you do this, don’t just bash out words. Think about what you’re writing, edit it, craft it. Tell the story of your day; how you felt, what you did. Aim to transport your reader. Write from your heart as only you can. Instead of creating a basic journal entry, write it in third person and turn it into a bit of a tale. “Julie Pilonski (substitute your name) woke with the alarm clock lying dead on the floor beside her. Silence. Silence was nice. Silence and the sun streaming through her bedroom window? Shit! Late!…” Edit it. Work it until you like it. Once you’re happy with your journal tales, start creating emails to friends and family. Don’t just spit them out. Hone your craft whenever you write. When you’re happy, press send. Oh hell yes! Look at that. You’re published! If you worry about the quality of your writing, do something about it.
Even if it’s good it might never get published. Or if it does, it might not sell, and if it does sell, it might not sell enough for me to make a living out of it. Oh heavens save us. Bring out the prescription pills, razor blades, bulldozer and wooden box
Get a grip. My husband has a story he tells whenever I spout this nonsense. “Paddy and Mick”: Paddy needs a shovel to dig up his garden and he knows Mick has one. So on a fine sunny morning he sets off out his front door and down his garden path to ask Mick for a loan of his shovel. As Paddy reaches the road, however, he remembers the last time he asked Mick for something. Mick bitched and complained and generally made the whole experience a misery. Paddy shrugs the memory off and keeps walking. However, when he gets a mile down the road he remembers another time he asked Mick for the loan of some sugar and did Paddy hear the end of that? Hell no. By now, Paddy is getting a little tense. His fists balled into bundles, his back tightened to a rigid mass and a deep frown digging furrows on his head. He walks that little bit faster as he remembers yet another time he asked Mick for the loan of his tractor and the argument that followed. By now, Paddy has sweat dripping down his face, his gut is a turmoil of acid strong enough to dissolve a badger at fifty feet. He storms up to Mick’s door and bangs loudly. A minute later Mick swings the door open and beams at Paddy: “Well hello, Paddy. How are you doing?” Paddy glowers at Mick. “Shove your shovel up your arse!” he bellows, and stalks off. Point being: It’s easy to talk yourself out of what you want by assuming what might or might not happen.
I could work on something for a year and it might or might not go anywhere
Fine. True. This is a fickle business full of subjective opinions. However, if you start now, you’ll know the outcome in a year. If you hum and ha and mess about, it might be two or five or ten years before you know whether it’ll come to anything. So just get on with it!
Fear is just one of your demons playing silly buggers with your head.
Happy writing today.