Writing and fear

In a newsletter I sent out around Thanksgiving, I told my readers that I had been struggling with getting any writing-related work done over the holiday, and it wasn’t as much because of laziness as it was of fear. I’m pretty sure that, if you’ve been writing a while (or even if you’ve just started), you probably know what I mean. Maybe you don’t. Many non-writers may not realize that fear can be one of a writer’s greatest hindrances. A lot of times, when a writer has “writer’s block,” most of it is from fear.

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I’m a pretty private person by nature, and I don’t like to voluntarily disclose personal things to persons with whom I don’t have a very close relationship–often I have trouble opening up to my wife, even. Writing is disclosure, however. While I find writing much more natural to me than talking, it is still a scary thing to put down my thoughts and feelings with the knowledge that someone is going to read it. Whether it’s writing a short story or novel, or if it’s writing a blog post, a writer is usually revealing something very personal and intimate about himself. You might be surprised to find out that writing fiction is almost more personal to me than this blog post.

When I write something that I actually plan on somebody seeing, I’m making myself vulnerable to the reader–this is actually harder to do when I know that the reader will be somebody I already know. I’ve had enough short stories rejected by different magazines to be able to handle outside criticism. But the thought of somebody I know reading my work and forming an opinion about my writing and about me, well that can be pretty terrifying.

So I’ll put it off.

So fear of judgment is pretty big with me. I don’t expect everyone to like what I write (it would be nice, but it’s not realistic). I’m okay with people not liking my work. But what I’m really afraid of is that if my writing is sub-par, people will not just think poorly of my writing, but that they will lose respect for me as a person. Nobody wants to be that guy who says he’s a writer but everybody knows he’s a hack.

Even worse is that I know people don’t just make hasty and arbitrary judgments about quality alone; they also judge fiction and non-fiction based on their own ideas of what is morally right and wrong. Which is fine, and something I do myself; but while I try not to let other people’s beliefs define my own, there is still a very deep-seated part of me that doesn’t want people to think of me as bad, wrong-headed, morally or intellectually foolish, etc. I’ve seen a lot of people completely write others off because their faith, politics, or something else in their philosophical system didn’t jive with what someone else was saying. I’ve done it, too.

Besides being afraid of self-disclosure and the fear of judgment, a big one that I know is common to a lot of writers is the fear of failure. Not only, what if I offend somebody, or what if somebody knows more about me now than I wanted them to,  or what if nobody likes what I write, even if I think it’s good, but the big one:

What if it’s so bad that even don’t like it?

Because, believe me, it happens. I’ll write some short story and think it’s the greatest thing ever made, and a week later I’ll go back over it and just think, This is crap, what was I thinking, I don’t have any business being a writer, I might as well give it all up now while I haven’t wasted my whole life trying and failing to write a single good sentence.

That’s been happening a lot as I go back over my novel as I get it closer and closer to publication.

Since I know those feelings are inevitable, a lot of times I’d rather just avoid it altogether. So, again, I’ll put it off.

(In fact, I was going to start working on a new short story today after doing some editing on my novel, but some of these fears held me back, and I put off working on the story by writing this blog post.)

There are still a lot of facets to these fears that can keep me from writing. Another fear is that I won’t say everything exactly the way I mean, or that I’ll not communicate clearly enough when I want to be understood clearly (there are times that it’s better to be vague, but it’s easier to be vague than it is to be clear).

However, while fear can be a writer’s greatest hindrance, it can also be his greatest motivator.[Tweet this]

Even when run and hide from the fears that you think live in your writing projects, they will poke their heads through the doorway and wag their fingers and mock you. You can’t really escape your fears by not writing. Even if you shut the door, your fears usually have pretty loud voices. And the only way to drown out those voices is to go back to the page and turn up the voices of your characters. It’s always harder to for me to start writing than it is to keep going; once I get into “the zone,” I’m in my characters’ world and I hear their voices, not the voices of my fears, and, if I’m doing it right, not even my own voice (this is another thing non-writers may not understand, but it’s true: a fiction writer has a lot less control over his/her characters than many people think).

Instead of letting fear hold me back, now I try to use it to make me work harder. It’s like Rocky said:

You see, fear is a fighter’s best friend. You know, but it ain’t nothing to be ashamed of. See, fear keeps you sharp, it keeps you awake, you know, it makes you want to survive. . . . But the thing is, you gotta learn how to control it. All right? ‘Cause fear is like this fire, all right? And it’s burning deep inside. Now, if you control it, Tommy, it’s gonna make you hot. But, you see, if this thing here, it controls you, it’s gonna burn you and everything else around you up. [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100507/quotes]

 

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5 thoughts on “Writing and fear

  1. Pingback: New year reflections | Timothy G. Huguenin

  2. This is a great topic and just by writing it, that’s acknowledging fear. I suspect more writers feel the way you do, but are too afraid to say it. Thanks for posting this.

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    • Thanks Jillian! I think even Stephen King said that fear one of the main things that keeps him from writing (not that he seems to have much trouble with not writing these days)

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  3. I can definitely relate to the fears you’re talking about. I’m also a very private person and I write because it’s the easiest way for me to express myself. I was so confident that my last novel was a good story. I had done my research, I created a unique story, and I put it out there for the world to read. All it took was one horrible review from a mean individual that won.. not even bought… but got a copy for free from a Goodreads giveaway to shake my confidence. I began to think “is everyone who reads this going to have the same opinion about this book I poured my heart and soul into?”. I felt overexposed. But then I realized the reviewer didn’t say a single constructive thing in the review. Just that I was stupid and the book was stupid (and a few choice expletives). That’s not a review, it’s a case of cyberbullying. I like to keep in mind that every day I keep writing and don’t give up I’m a better writer than I was the day before. Every author had to start somewhere.

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    • Yeah I’m bout to self publish my first book and I’m scared that a lot of people will hate it. I think one or two bad reviews I can handle if I have enough good ones to balance them out but still nobody likes stuff like that, especially the useless comments like you mentioned. I know they’ll come though, guess I just better get ready

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