Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fear and Writing

When I decided to become a writer, I was consumed by fear and doubts. Who was I to think I could be a writer? Would I ever be good enough? Where should I begin? What did I want to write? Would anyone ever want to read anything that I wrote? Was I good enough? Was I good enough? Was I good enough? Was I crazy? Who was I to think that I could ever be a writer?

Fast forward to more than twenty-five years later and…no, the fear has not gone away. There are times when the fear is even greater than it was in the beginning, because now I know enough to know what to fear. And yes, the questions are still there. They're just (mostly) different questions: Is this the right story, the right sentence, the right word? Is this character sympathetic? Is the tone of the book right? Is the pacing right? Where do I drop in this bit of foreshadowing? If I put it here, is that too soon? If I leave it until later, is that too late? Am I good enough to write this book? Will anyone want to read this type of book or this particular book? How will I get readers to pick up this book? And what will I do if readers don't like it?

See? The fear never stops. The truth is that to be a writer is to be afraid. Of many things.

And…there's a danger in fear. It can stop you in your tracks. Lead you to avoid writing. Many writers and would-be writers have found this to be true, and often that avoidance is skillfully and convincingly masked. A writer tells herself or himself that he or she is not avoiding writing. "I'm researching." or "I have to be on Facebook or Twitter because I need to build relationships so that I'll have an audience for the book."

They're not entirely wrong, because yes, a writer does need to research and a writer does need to network (usually, unless you're brilliant and lucky and your publisher spends big money to promote you). But not if it gets in the way of the writing. Not if it takes up so much of your time that you never seem to get to the book.

So…fear is the bad thing that keeps you from writing?

Yes. And no.

A writer needs to ask questions. She needs to make important decisions and if she plunges ahead without any thought to the consequences, she may end up with a book that yes, no one wants to read, including editors. The key is, in my opinion, to know which questions (which fears) are important and which ones can and should be ignored.

So…what's important?

Anything that deals with the story itself. It's perfectly normal and necessary to experience fear when the story begins to slip away or when a writer loses sight of his characters, his theme, his conflict. Those are positive fears because they keep a writer on the straight and narrow.

That doesn't mean that a writer should always play it safe. We've all had those out-of-the-blue scenes that weren't in the original blueprint for the story, and often those are the scenes that make the book more exciting. The key isn't necessarily to play it safe. The key is to be true to your story.

I'll say it again, a bit louder. The Key is to Be True to Your Story. So, when a question arises about the story itself, listen to it, think about it, meditate on the issue, project yourself into the minds of your characters, into the heart of what the book is about, into future scenes to decide if you're being true to the story. Base your decision on that. That doesn't mean that the fear will evaporate, but if you remain true to the book, eventually the questions will stop swirling around your head and the book will begin to come together. You'll know that it's right. And that's when the fear stops. (For some writers, a trusted critique group may also help, but note that this isn't for every writer. Take some time to think about whether or not you're a "critique group" type of writer or not).

As for the other questions, the Am I crazy? Am I talented enough? Good enough? Brave enough? Wise enough? Will anyone ever like me or my book? questions, those are the ones that you need to ignore. They're not helpful. They do nothing to aid you or your work. In fact, they're the types of questions that interfere with your work. And while they will continue to appear throughout your career every time you step into new, unknown territory, just keep in mind that while these fears aren't helpful, they're perfectly normal. All authors have doubts at some time or another. Just don't let those doubts consume you or stop you from writing.

One way to turn those types of doubts off is to write. And keep writing. Be true to your story and keep writing with your eye on only the story and those doubts will become less bothersome.

Another thing that helps some writers is to indulge in affirmations. At the very least, remind yourself that yes, you are a writer, and fear is part of the game. If you have to remind yourself several times or even many times a day, that's okay. Say it to yourself or say it out loud: I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer, and I won't allow fear to keep me from writing.

So yes, ask the questions, the right questions. And ignore the wrong ones. You are a writer.

Keep writing.  And enjoy that wonderful feeling that comes when you have written and the fear fades away


Mary Preston said...

Without writers, readers would be without the means!!

Myrna Mackenzie said...

Thank you for realizing that (not everyone does). A few of my favorite authors have quit writing, and I really miss their books. Fortunately, new (new to me, anyway) authors have filled the void, but I still miss some of my old favorites.

Cathy Shouse said...

This is good to know! Rather than thinking that the fear will go away, I guess we need techniques to deal with it. Thanks for a different way of looking at it. I've also heard it said that it is impossible to feel two emotions at once--something like that. For example, if you make yourself feel hopeful, thoughts of fear don't have space in your thoughts.
Just accepting that fear will always be part of the writing life is beneficial to me today. I had really been counting on fear to disappear at some point. lol

Myrna Mackenzie said...

Cathy, good to see you here! I like the thought that hope crowds out fear, too. Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings about fear, though. LOL

Still, being around other writers, even if it's only on the Internet, helps (at least it works for me). I think it's knowing that we're all in the same boat that helps me forge ahead and get past those moments of doubt when the story is misbehaving.