A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with someone I admire greatly and who is, among many things, a talented writer. As I was explaining the plot of a story I’d outlined a couple of years ago to get his thoughts on it, he suddenly cut me off.
“Did you notice,” he said carefully, seeming hesitant to call me out, “that every time you mention one of your stories, you end by saying how much it sucks?”
I hadn’t noticed and flushed with embarrassment, grateful that he couldn’t see my reddening face. Jokingly, I tried to downplay my self-condescension, explaining that I used to be more creative in my childhood and adolescence. Why, I’d even written 30 short stories and two fan-fiction manuscripts over the course of two years in college!
But then, life happened. I graduated and, in my eyes, failed to integrate into adulthood. Through the struggle to stand on my own two feet and several bouts of severe writer’s blocks, it wasn’t until now, in my 30s, that I’d finally decided to place more attention on how I truly wanted to live.
Despite this newfound desire, my creativity is still recovering. The mental freedom I used to feel as a child is nonexistent. Even a 400-page manuscript that I’d completed four years ago was shoved into limbo after I dozed off in the middle of editing it–twice.
Now, I’m lucky to draft a 10-page story outline, let alone a full-length novel. I was too afraid to write beyond that.
“What are you afraid of?” my friend asked.
I paused, running the question through my mind and letting the silence on the line balloon between us. When the answer formed, it was a lot longer–and more heart-rending–than I’d expected it to be.
Why I am Afraid
This isn’t the first time I’ve explored my fear of writing. It has been, however, seven years since I really looked at the root of the problem. While some things remained the same, time (and neglect) have allowed the number of fears to multiply.
As each reason poured from my mouth, a new one flooded my head right behind it:
- There are only a finite number of plots and themes that are recycled throughout storytelling. What would make anyone read mine when they could read somebody else’s? Someone much more talented?
- My plot will be stupid.
- My plot will be boring.
- My characters, setting, climax, and resolution will be an amazing conglomerate of boring and stupid.
- I’ll start drafting a book, then get bored and stop. Therefore, I’ve wasted my time getting started in the first place.
- Everyone (fanatics and critics alike) will ridicule every book I write, calling them crappy, mortifying, and just plain awful.
- I don’t have the intelligence, maturity, or skillset to write the story the way I want it. The premise will sound good, but then I’ll have to flesh out the details. Of which I will do a miserable job.
- I should be putting my time and energy into “more important, productive” activities. Like a full-time corporate job, and socializing with friends, and…um…laundry.
- All the time spent writing the book, editing the book, submitting the book, promoting the book, publishing the book…will all be for nothing. No one will read it.
- I’ll get a literary agent who doesn’t represent me to his/her fullest, and my book will end up in horrifying obscurity, not seeing the light of day until 500 years later, when I will be adored only because my book will serve as the only remnant of an otherwise forgotten time.
- I have a former very close friend whom I knew throughout high school who is now a lauded, bestselling author. I have other friends, family members, and clients who have also published books. So, then…what void is left for me to fill in the writing world?
This list is more complete than the one I gave my friend during our call. After reciting about three or four, I trailed off, again embarrassed to be exposing this part of myself that I hadn’t realized ran so deep.
My friend, to his credit, remained matter-of-fact. “Well, you need to get them out somehow. Otherwise, you’ll run them through your mind over and over again, and you’ll never get out of your own head. You might also be surprised at how many writers share your fears. Maybe it will help you and them to get them out. Maybe you could add it to your blog.”
And, well. Here we are.
Writing Full Circle
I have re-written this post about three or four times in the last few days.
Because I was afraid to write about being afraid to write.
Throughout the years, I’ve written about my issues with social anxiety and chronic depression without much hesitation. That is probably because they are more familiar issues to address. I know the signs for when they onset; though I can’t always regulate them, I’m somewhat learning how to keep them under control.
What I struggle with now is different. Being afraid to write doesn’t disrupt my life in the same way anxiety and depression do. I’ve been able to ignore the urge to fight it by writing in other ways to satisfy it. Writing prompts. Fan fiction. Blog posts.
Other people publish books. I wasn’t meant for that.
Logic tells me that most of my fears are unfounded. Common sense tells me that they’re all ridiculous. Practicality tells me that, even if any of these fears were founded, writing is a skill that I could easily improve upon.
The first step to overcoming a fear is admitting that you are afraid.
The second step is to embrace the fear.
And the third?
Grab that fear by the hand and dance in the rain under a waxing moon until you’re both laughing and twirling, and the fear has faded among the heated mist that rises from the earth during a sweet, smoldering summer evening.