Some Thoughts on Fear
I just read two wonderful books of historical fiction:
The reading of both of these books was an absolute delight. The books move quickly, not weighed down by too much historical baggage, with the hero’s problems and needs always the main focus. As a reader, I lost myself in both stories and found excuses to put off other work so I could keep reading and keep reading. And as a writer, I kept hearing myself in the background, saying, “Yes! This is what historical fiction should be. This is what I want to do with my story.”
Those were the ups.
The down, of course, was that other voice in the background, still mine, but the variant that isn’t so sure about things. And that voice was saying, “…if I can.”
It’s a big if.
I’m also reading Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path, by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lott. My friend and critique partner Terri Thayer bought multiple copies of this book after hearing Nancy Pickard talk at a recent writers conferences. She wrapped them up and handed them around the table at our last meeting, because, she said, we all needed the book.
I think she’s right. So far, I’ve only read up to Step 1, Unhappiness, which the authors identify as the stage before you get writing, when–in a not-so-bad case–you’re itching with unreleased creativity, or–in a pretty bad case, you’re depressed and curled up with misery. I don’t think I’m there right now, not full-blown, anyway, but I recognize the stage. Probably you all do. Because in this stage, whether you’re bursting with the need to write or stressing out that you might not be able to, there’s one common factor.
These days, I’m feeling pretty good about my writing. In the “old days,” I typically had one idea at a time and, if that project was going poorly, I faced the big fear that this was all I would ever think of to write and I wouldn’t even be able to do that. For whatever reason these days, I have more ideas than I can juggle, wishing mostly for more time so I could get to all of them.
But…reading these two novels reminded me that the fear can still lurk. The fear that what I want to do with this historical fiction novel I’m working on, the story that I want to tell, may be beyond me. I’ve looked pretty closely at this, and–honestly–I’m pretty sure this feeling is not jealousy. This is one way I’m lucky, I think–when someone creates a thing of beauty, especially out of words, it motivates and inspired ms, rather than making me feel like I should give up. Still, mixed into the pleasure and the awe is that other, less happy emotion.
I honestly know only one way of dealing with this feeling. And that is to look fully head on at the question I’m asking myself.
That question is: “What if I can’t write Caro’s story, not with the strength it deserves, the power I know a book can have? What if I am not a good enough writer?”
I don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s a good thing. 🙂
What I do know is this: If I stop trying, if I give up, then, no, I won’t be able to write the book. If I quit, then I drop any chance of success that I might hope for.
Pickard and Lott talk about not hiding from the unhappiness; they say the only way to get through it is to recognize and speak it. I would add that there may or may not be a way to get past the fear, but there is a way not to let it beat us. And that is to choose the option of hope. Possibility. The maybe I can. To keep writing.
And, of course, to keep reading. To remind ourselves why we do this, what we are striving for. Thanks, Joyce. Thanks, Laurie.
Becky, this is such a great reflective post. You expressed much better than I could that nagging fear that we all experience.
Thanks for the kind words. They do encourage me! Because always there is that other fear that once the book is written, it won’t sell or will be overshadowed by all the others out there.
And just so you know – you can do it. Think of the story as a series of layers. Right now you are working on one layer (perhaps just getting the story on the page.) Later you can work on other layers – visual detail, characterization, symbolism, etc that all culminate in the end product – a really powerful piece of historical fiction. You are getting there. Press on!
Thanks, Joyce! The other lucky thing is that I’m out here, listening to other writers like you, & knowing it’s just not me feeling this way. 🙂 And thanks for the layers thoughts–that’s what I keep telling myself–baby steps–that I can’t/shouldn’t try & do it all at once. Many, many drafts!
thank you for sharing and recommending Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path. I can relate to fear getting in the way. I remember someone saying (was that a motivational speaker? I can’t recall) “face you fear. Do what you are afraid to do.” I was afraid to write, so I started writing. I was afraid to write really bad prose, and I once sat down deciding I was going to write the most horrible story I possibly could. As strange as it may sound (another advice I got from a writer as a writing exercise), that killed my writer’s block and I started enjoying the process. Thank you again.
Nathalie, I think we set ourselves up for fear by deciding we have to do it well the first time (or second or third) time out. Or by feeling like the garbage won’t get us to the good. But breaking our goals down into steps, LITTLE steps, I think, we can move forward toward them. Good luck!
Oh, I remember when I used to worry I wouldn’t have ideas! The books sounds fab. I’m going to read a few new craft books this year. I think I’ll add it to the list!
Thanks, Tricia. Isn’t it better being overloaded with ideas? 🙂
Well said, Becky. I think we all struggle with this very fear at every stage of our writing career. I have no doubt that you can and will write Caro’s story but I understand those words that nibble at the back of your mind.
Keep your eye on the prize at the end of the path.
Thanks, Susan. I’m trying!