I think I’ve talked here before about how, in The Critiquer’s Survival Guide, I’m making up excerpts from “not-so-good” books, to use as examples. (I also have excerpts from real books, but those are for the better examples!) Anyway, today I was playing with a bit of text for a pretend self-help book called Overcoming Your Writing Fears. I didn’t have to come up with a lot of words, just a few paragraphs. I sat for a few minutes, thinking & imagining, and the muse answered my call.
The wicked, evil muse who sounded an awful lot like some vicious, boot-camping, pep-talking villain, the kind with a get-over-it attitude and butt-kicking motivation technique.
This is NOT me. Okay, it was kind of fun to write, and I think it’ll stay in the book, but it also started me thinking about how (and why) I really deal with my writing fears. To be honest, this is a relatively new question for me. Call me cocky, but for years I pretty much wrote along, thinking I was a decent-to-good writer, learning my craft and putting words on the page. Then, as I started getting “closer” to the real thing, to submitting to agents, to getting contracts, to sending some of those pages off to an editor–the fear started to show up.
It’s not a fear of whether I can write. It’s, not much, anyway, a fear that I can’t write well. It’s pretty much a fear/worry that I will keep writing and writing and never “make it.”
Which is pretty silly, when you think about it, considering The Critiquer’s Survival Guide is scheduled to come out this fall. 🙂
Silly, or not, the fear is real. As are all our anxieties about our skill and “success.” So how do I deal with it?
Well, mostly I try to be kind to myself, but not too kind. I don’t beat myself up for the days I make less progress, and I don’t try to press-fit myself into the computer chair with a big shoe horn, when it’s clear the shoving will only be painful. But when I take a break, especially if that break is from fear, I try to make that time useful. I get up and exercise or I tidy up some of the mess in the house that’s been driving me crazy. (This is different from procrastinating by cleaning–if I’d been doing that, the mess wouldn’t be there in the first place!)
And I bring myself back. I try very hard not to spend more than one day, other than the weekend, away from SOME kind of writing. I know that the best way to make progress on a manuscript is to keep it at the front of your mind, and every 24-hours that you are not working on it is another layer down in your brain that you have to go down to dig it up. And because I know that staying away from the writing never feels good; it just feels frustrating and tense and makes me angry at myself. Even the fear is better than that.
That’s pretty much the how. The why–the reason I try and work through (or with) my writing fears–is perhaps even more important. When I look at the problem, when I face the fact that I am afraid and worried and too full of doubt, I have to ask my question. And that question is: With all this, will you, can you stop writing?
There is only one answer to that question for me: No.
So, if I’m going to write–and I am going to write–then I have to come back, fears or not, to the novel or the picture book or the nonfiction project. Because that’s the only way I’m going to get the flip side of that fear–the delight, the magic, the power.
I’m not alone in this fear, and neither are you. Here are a few more posts on the subject, some words from a few more writers.
- Carrie Jones is a wonderful writer, with several published books. She still has fears:
- Barbara Wallace discusses her top five writing fears:
- Amy, The Tenacious Writer, talks about beating perfectionism, which is–essentially–fear:
- Cynthia Morris tells us how to make fear our friend:
And another post popped up today (Thursday)–must be that time of the year!
- Sara Zarr talks about self-doubt:
What are your writing fears? How do you handle them, to make sure you keep moving forward on whatever your writing path may be?