I have mixed feelings about Halloween as a season–costumes and candy, okay. The celebration of horror and fear? Not so much. (I’m pretty much a wuss when it comes to scary things–my mind can work something terrifying out of very little material).
Perhaps this is why facing my own fears can be the most difficult part of writing.
We all have them, those quiet (and not-so-quiet) gremlins in our head, just waiting to pounce when we’re at our most vulnerable.
You’re not good enough. Why are you wasting time on this?
You’ll never be good enough.
None of your ideas are original.
People are going to hate this story–and they’ll hate you too.
Your voice doesn’t matter. No one needs your story.
I’m not sure these fears get any easier the farther you get in publishing: if anything, I think you become more aware of the myriad ways you (or your story) can fail. Two weeks before my debut came out, I hit a point where I was so terrified of the potentially public failure that I wanted to call my editor and beg her to stop the book from coming out. (I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but the terror was very real).
When we write, we put ourselves on the line. We let other people–strangers–get glimpses of the insides of our head, of our hearts. That kind of vulnerability can be terrifying.
Writing also has very few clear guidelines: what works well in one novel might not work in the next. This kind of uncertainty can be frightening, even if more than one author claims that uncertainty is critical to the writing process.
I don’t claim to have all the answers–sometimes the core of our fears are valid. Some ideas aren’t as original as they could be. Sometimes our craft isn’t where it needs to be. The good thing is, these are all problems that are fixable–our fear doesn’t have to be the final word. We can brainstorm. We can study craft. We can improve.
Here are a few things that have helped me face my own fears
Name your fears.
Sometimes, the simple fact of acknowledging what you’re afraid of can help you move through fear. Some fears are actionable–if you’re afraid you’re not good enough, you can work to be better. Some fears are outside our control (like the fear of public failure if your book isn’t well received)–and recognizing that you can’t control it can help you let go of that particular fear or expectation. (Note that I say help–I don’t think it alleviates the fear entirely.)
Learn to sit with uncertainty.
Some degree of fear is almost inevitably going to be part of the writing process. Mindfulness practices teach us that feeling uncertain (or afraid) is not in and of itself a bad thing–we just need to be aware of what we’re feeling and move on. Sometimes, we have to be willing to sit with that uncertainty. (A good meditation app can help too). Don’t be afraid of that fear–it’s normal!–and don’t make decisions on your writing out of fear.
Remember that your job is to create, not critique.
A month or so ago, one of my friends, knowing I was struggling with fear, sent me this article. In it, James Clear describes Agnes de Mille, the choreographer for Oklahoma!, who was confused by the show’s success, as she didn’t feel it was her best work. She talked to Martha Graham, a successful choreographer, who told her this:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
Clear goes on to say,
it is not your job to judge your own work. It is not your place to compare it to others. It is not your responsibility to figure out how valuable it is or how useful it can be. It is not your job to tell yourself, “No.”
Instead, your responsibility is to create. Your job is share what you have to offer from where you are right now. To quote Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher, your job is to “come as you are.”
When I struggle most, I tell myself this: my job is to create the best I can. Whether the thing I’ve created is any good is not my judgment–that is up to readers. Somehow, I find this incredibly freeing. That’s not to say I won’t have to make some judgments about my work as I go along, but it reminds me not to preemptively judge my stories before I’ve worked through them.
Writer’s Digest also has a wonderful post on some ways to work through fear. What are some things that have helped you?
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is now available.