Writing Fears

Jessica Page Morrell is one of my favorite authors of books on writing. Three of her books that I return to often are Between the Lines, Writing Out the Storm, and Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches.

In Writing Out the Storm, there is a chapter called Beyond Fear where she lists out common negative thoughts of writers and notes that the root cause of all of them is fear. It’s a great chapter. Are the negative thoughts I carry around relating to writing truly from fear? I’m not sure.

To answer that question I have to be very honest here, in a public forum. That’s fear in itself. But here goes.

I’m an awful writer. I’ll never be a good writer. People compliment my writing just to be kind. I’m wasting my time. These authors are so much better than me. I can’t get what I feel onto paper. My characters are all alike. My characters are cardboard. My words are cliches and corny. Why bother? Why not just give up and quit trying to write? I’m too old. I’ve found some typos in my books – proof I’m awful. If I was any good, wouldn’t I be selling books?

Maybe I need to stop. I’m realizing I could go on and on in the same vein and it’s getting depressing.

Jessica is correct that it all comes from fear. It also all comes from lack of confidence and a willingness to believe that awful inner critic.

If any fellow writer told me those things, I’d list many reasons they were wrong. For example, the bit about basing how good you are as a writer on how many books you sell on Amazon – well, go look at the millions of books for sale. Trying to become visible in that deep, dark ocean is practically impossible. It has nothing to do with talent. But do I believe that when it is applied to me? Of course not.

So why do we let those writing fears cling to us when we try to wipe them off the shoulders of fellow writers? Why do we hang on to them almost as a form of self-torture? These fears don’t necessarily push me to try harder. If I dwell on the fears it’s the opposite effect – they become a weight bearing me down that I can’t rise up from.

What does, then, push me to try harder? What allows me to bunch up my shoulders and turn my back on those fears?

Other writers, for one thing. Being able to talk about writing – not necessarily the fears, but the craft, is always uplifting. Whenever I’m around other writers I leave full of excitement that I can go forward, jump in, try again, and get better.

It’s when I’m alone that the negativity creeps in. Or, as Jessica Page Morrell says, the fear.

Writing is a solitary endeavor. The creating part of it. But entering that solitary environment of writing, I believe, requires a healthy dose of life. To be able to bury those fears during the solitary moments of creating, writers need to first pull them out into light and air and community. I don’t mean that when I’m with other writers all I want to talk about is these negative things. Those fears are never expressed so openly.

What I mean is that being with other writers, talking about the challenges of a current work in progress, brainstorming plot ideas, editing each other’s work – in other words, the actual work of writing – that’s what buries fears for me.

At least for a short while.

To quote Jessica, ‘Fear is merely a bad habit’.

We all know how hard bad habits are to break. But they can be broken. A first step for me involves figuring out how to apply the words I give others to myself. And letting go of fear.