On Writing: Killing Fear

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Courtesy of pixabay.com

You can’t.

Well, you could, but you shouldn’t.

Here’s why.

Fear is Natural

The moment a mother clings to her child and stares out into the distance, wondering what is coming, her body changes.  Her heart races.  Her breath quickens.  Her grip tightens.

She feels fear.

As adrenaline continues to course through her, she faces a choice: fight, flee, or find out how much of a threat this apparent danger is.  With this information, she can make even better decisions.

She has these choices, because they are with her all the time.  They have been handed down to her from her parents, genetics, and the environment she was raised in—full of potential threats.  And with her choices, good and bad, she has survived.

Fear is not something that appears out of nowhere.  It is innate and nurtured.  It is a positive asset designed to equip an individual with the strength they need to conquer a potential challenge.

However, having too much fear is unnatural.

Fear Can Be Prohibitive

Writers are allegedly fearful people.  They fear they will garner critical, negative reviews on their work.  They fear their book never see the beautiful light of publishing fame.  They fear their rough draft will be terrible.  They fear their characters won’t be likable.

These are good reasons to be afraid.  After all, writers want to be taken seriously as much as possible.

And with these fears in mind, some of them believe that they must find ways to vanquish this fear altogether.  This thought ,on its surface, seems logical enough.  If there is no fear, there will be no obstacles.  There will be no hesitance.  And ultimately, there will be more writing to be had.

I am one of those fearful kinds of writers.  While I mainly write out the first drafts of my stories to get a feel for their form, I plot out the other drafts after that.  I don’t know everything I will write. I don’t know the exact words or the exact way certain characters will behave.  I only set up a framework.

But when I get too caught up in the planning—when I get afraid that my characters will not be strong or things don’t make sense, fear creeps in.

Fear shuts me down, because I am one of those kinds of people that likes to know as much as I can about my story.  I want my story to be as strong as I can, and I want it as strong as possible as soon as possible.  I want my rough draft to be as good as it can so that there’s minimal editing and struggle involved.

But this is not conducive to writing.  This is perfectionism.  I know that no matter what story I’ve written in the past, I’ve had to revise it significantly.  To think otherwise is to deny my whole experience as a writer.  I never woke up writing well-thought, perfect novels.  My writing grew with fits and starts.

I know this.

Which is why, one day, I said enough.

I can’t know everything.  I haven’t been writing because of all this planning I’ve been doing.

So, with my friend’s encouragement, I write.

I write for a good while.  And it feels good to write.  And it feels good to not worry about anything and just follow my map.

But a few days later, the old fear creeps back.

“I thought I got rid of you!” I scream.  “I know I’m busy with other things, and that’s making writing hard, but I thought we went through this already!”

“Oh, I know,” this fear says, “but you’re a fool to think you’ve gotten ‘rid’ of me.  You’ll never get rid of me.  And if you think you can keep me at bay, you’re going to have to do better than that.”

And this fear is right.  I have to do better.

Because contrary to popular belief, being a better “you” does happen overnight—within moments.  And you have to grab at the chance the instant it appears, or rigidity will consume you.

Fear is a Choice

In order to function in our lives, we need balance.  When we have too little fear, we treat actual dangers like they aren’t dangers, and wind up getting hurt.  We fear fear, the creeping feeling inside our gut, by pursuing as much pleasure as we can, throwing away relationships and care.  When we have too much fear, we are bound to perpetual safety and security, but at a cost to our mental and physical health.  We would rather know with certainty that we will be safe than even take the chance of finding something better and changing ourselves for good.

We need just enough fear to function, and just enough courage to thrive.

But how do you—how do we do this?

How do we know how much fear is too much, and how much fear is too little?

Well, I can’t tell you what you fear.  I can only tell what I fear and need to do.

That leaves you, because you know yourself better than you think you do.

Your favorite foods did not become your favorite foods when you woke up this morning.  They became your favorites once you ate them  You didn’t know what they would taste like at first, but once you did, you knew, and knew for life.

You made a choice to try that food.  You were afraid to try it, because you didn’t know what it tasted like.  But you tasted it anyway, in spite of your fear.

Yet fear dictates almost every choice in our lives; it’s what keeps us from drinking that spoiled milk in the fridge and going down that dark alley.  How can it be that it’s you and I that know the balance we need?

Because fear doesn’t dictate every choice you make.  You are the one that sniffs the milk.  You are the one that stares down the dark alley in the face, or chooses not to engage it.

You, dear writer, have the power to decide what kind of writer you will become.

You are the one that makes choicesT

Writers who are courageous are afraid—Yes! they are! They are afraid their writing has something wrong with it, and they have decided to join a critique group in the hope of finding something better.  They are afraid that something is not quite right with their protagonist, and instead of assuming their fears—that their protagonist is awful, they take the chance that their protagonist can be better as they buy a book on characterization.

Fear is a Friend

“Safety” is, at times, a misleading word.  When we feel safe, we feel secure, but secure in what? Sometimes, we feel safe and secure in our own failure, because that is what we know the best.  We know ourselves best as the writer who can never be anything more than a failure.  After all, that’s what the world tells us, right?

Writers aren’t meant for success.  They won’t get any real money.  Writing is hard.  Writing is nonsensical.

If you’ve ever heard any of those kinds of statements, it’s because the people who said them are afraid of you.  They want you to stay within their idea of safety and security—the idea that says writers are unsuccessful, because that is what they know and believe.  They are afraid that you will succeed and prove them wrong.   

But the fact that you have decided to become a writer shows that while you are afraid that they might be right, you are acting on your desire for happiness and staying a writer anyway.

Writers are courageous.

And those who want to be even more courageous practice being courageous—strong in the face of their own fear.  Every day, just like the rest of their lives, which means that it’s up to you to make your writing better and a part of your life.  Join critique groups.  Read more novels/short stories/scripts.  Read more books on the craft.

And most of all, write.

Whether in a journal, short story, novel, or blog like this one, writing is the single bravest things you can do right now.

Go do it.

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