Saturday, February 02, 2008

The dark place

My friend M is a writer. Somehow though she's got the idea that there's something wrong with her because she's afraid of writing, publishing, revealing herself, rejection, failure, success, the whole ball of wax. I try to tell her it's common. It's normal. But she still doesn't quite believe me.

So I'd like to enlist your help. Please leave a comment about how you handle fear and writing.

And for all of us who battle fear, here's a quote from Walking on Alligators, A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy:

"The dark place seems less dark when we get there. It was only the journey that was fearful....Join us as we take the less-lit road, the road that curves into the unknown places. See what you bring back."


Lisa said...

I know that fear and lived it for many, many years and only within the last year have I begun to face it -- although, full disclaimer, I have never published anything -- but in order to get from writing to publishing, I suppose it's a given that one has to deal with the fear of sharing work to take the first step. Each step of the way has been terrifying for me. Like anything, once I did whatever it was that frightened me so, I realized there was nothing to be afraid of. My conquered fears within the last year:
1. I read about The Lighthouse Writers Workshop for two years before I could work up the courage to join and sign up for any work shops. I was sure everyone was a literary genius and they would view me as a total loser wannabe. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. I went to their retreat in July last year and realized I am no different than most other people on this journey and that writers who participate in these things are supportive and generous.
2. I had to read something of mine aloud at the writers retreat -- in front of people. I agonized, thought about not doing it, had to take a beta blocker and drink a beer before I got up there. And then it was done and people clapped and smiled and I knew I had done something important to my development. What I read wasn't important, it was that I did it.
3. I signed up for novel writing work shops and had to share big chunks of writing. I pictured my fellow work shoppers tearing me up and telling me I had no talent. That didn't happen. Everyone had the same fears and it was one of the best learning experiences I ever had.
4. I was afraid to reach out to other writers because I didn't want them to think I imagined myself one of them. Reaching out has been the best thing I've ever done and it's changed my life.

I won't go on and describe the vulnerability of posting 1st draft work to the world -- but I will say that the results of facing my fears have been so important to my growth and so far, everything that's frightened me has turned out to be wholly nothing to be afraid of. You just have to take that first step.

Rebecca Hickman said...

I'm afraid of writing, too. Blogging has helped a bit.

BTW, thanks for visiting my site!

Travis Erwin said...

This will sound conceited but when I am doubting myself I consider everyone who has already accomplished what I am trying to do.

I have always found at least one person that enables me to think well if they did it surely I can, because frankly their now too bright.

Yes, I have been proven wrong and underestimated people but at the time I convinced myself to give it a shot.

Particular to writing. I say practice helps. Join a small critique group. Read for them then work up to larger audiences.

If all else fails there is always Rum.

Mary Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Kibler said...

Not published yet, either, but I keep telling myself when I am scared to death about each next step that it must be a lot like having a kid. After having three, one of whom is in college now (ouch!), I consider myself experienced if not a pro.

Usually, anticipating each new stage (sitting up, crawling, walking, running, jumping, getting on the school bus, and so on) is terrifying, but suddenly you're in the middle of it, reveling in it (mostly!) and already anticipating and being afraid of the next.

At that point, you look back at the ones that scared you before and say to yourself, "THAT was easy!" Or, sometimes you say, "That was really hard, but wow, am I stronger now."

At least I hope so. ;-)

Gina Black said...

It's no less terrifying than having a baby. Maybe more in some ways.

Carleen Brice said...

For the record, I'm pretty thoroughly published and writing still freaks me out! I don't know that there's ever a truly safe point. Each book is it's own hurdle.

The point is...we continue to go forward because the rewards (not $) are worth it, right?

And Travis you are right: if I can do it, so can you!

Thanks for all your comments!!

Barrie said...

I use a method similar to Travis'. I tell myself that if I'm feeling the fear; lots of other people are too. And that they are somehow living with it. Which means it's doable. Which means that I have company. And then I start writing. Not too profound, but it works for me.

Unknown said...

OK! Yes, it's fear but I hide behind the critic in my head. I tell myself, "Man, nobody wants to read this #$%@." OR "This is dumb." And I say it before I even get one word on the page. The irony is, I like what I write. When I read it to myself, I think, "Wow, I nailed it." But the thought of an audience... Oh my god.

Shelli said...

Fear has kept me from doing so much in my life. I finally decided that I didn't want to die and look back with so many regrets. So, I just ignore the fear and do what I want anyway. Taking writing classes and sharing my work with others really boosted my confidence. And I have found that blogging has helped me. I thought I was over the fear, but whenever I write something that's special to me, I am nervous to hit that publish button. But the kind responses I receive make the nervousness melt.

Mary Ann said...

I removed my earlier posting because it wasn't the whole truth. I have no trouble writing at work, technical or marketing writing. But the reason I spend all my time doing that is to avoid writing the book that's in my mind. I think what I need to do is just write it as if I'm never going to show it to anyone. And then see how I feel once it's done.

Carleen Brice said...

See, Maryann, you're so not alone! What I'm hearing as good ideas: taking baby steps, blogging and writer's groups.

I have to leave the room (if not the house) when my husband reads my pages. The first time I gave him the OM&H ms, I got literally sick to my stomach. I'm still incredibly nervous about the idea of people reading it--and I think it's a really good story!

I have 22 days to send my WIP to my agent and I'm a nervous wreck. I say all that to say, for most of us it's a feel-the-fear-and-do-it- anyway kind of thing.

Moanna, I appreciate your honesty! I think we all have things we do to distract us from what we really want to do. My husband is a muscician and he struggles with the same issues.

Shelli, thanks for stopping in and for commenting! I've shared a lot on my blog that is personal and sometimes I feel a little zing when I hit the post button too.

Therese said...

Yes, the anxieties are normal--as all these other comments demonstrate...

I find I'm soothed by the knowledge that other writers and authors have endured exactly the same anxieties; I admire the ones who soldier on through and emerge with successful careers.

As Travis said, I figure if they could do it, I can, too.

I'm more afraid of what would happen to me if I don't pursue this dream than the things that have begun happening since I did. And honestly, for me, I enjoy the multi-level challenges, because there's such joy in overcoming fear.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

You know what I do? I write for me. When I'm writing, I can't think about who else might read it. And I allow myself to write crap. I sometimes even jot down in the margin "this sucks" or "yuk"--because I can't fix it until it's on paper. I'm a writer therefore I write.

When I'm starting a new MS, I don't think, okay, I've got to write 75,000 words. I tell myself, write 1000 words today. I have a friend whose goal is to write "one shitty page". Anybody can do that.

Even now, with one published book out in the world, it can be scary sending new pages to my agent. But if I don't, I'll never see it completed. If it's not good, that doesn't mean I'm not good, it just means I have to fix it.

Not to be flippant, but it's not rocket science. Just like anything that matters, it's easy to make it into some huge endeavor that overwhelms us. Don't. Break it down. Write one sentence, then a paragraph, then a page. It's like when i was dating after my divorce. I hoped for the best and expected the worst. I finally found the right guy (after 8 years), but if I'd given up earlier, I never would have the perfect marriage for me (and him, I hope). So, don't give up after the 1st or 100th rejection. Don't give up on an early draft. Polish it and get better. Start something new. But write. For yourself if for no one else.

Okay, the mom lecture is over. For now!

Julie Kibler said...

Judy, "writing for yourself" is what I try to remind myself to do, too (hence, my blog name, "an audience of me" and the quote at the top from Eudora Welty).

By the way, I've been lurking on your blog. I hadn't been able to read your book yet, but I got a copy Thursday and finished it in the wee hours last night. It was so poignantly good. I was afraid I was going to wake my husband up the other night when I was sniffling and choking back tears near the end of the first section.

You might have written it for you, but it certainly grabbed ME, so that must be an excellent method.

Anonymous said...

Here's a quote I heard recently that I'm going to post on my blog, but I'm leaving it here, too, because M needs to hear it:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”

- Marianne Williamson, 1992, "A Return To Love"

Karen L. Simpson said...

The only reason my first article was published was because my beloved sister told me that if I didn't send it in she would steal the file off my computer and send it the magazine. I was so scared that nobody wanted my writing I almost fainted when I got the acceptance letter.

My writing group still laughs at how when I first joined they saw me hiding behind the bookshelves in the bookstore and listening until I finally got up enough courage to sit on the outside of the group. I sat at the back for two weeks until a man who is now a good friend told me that I had to bring something to read the next time or I couldn't stay. He was kidding but I didn't know that. I panic and brought a poem. I read it to the group in a voice so soft every one had to lean in to hear me and when I finished I was shaking so bad they thought I was sick.

I was scared but it was one of the best things I ever did. Because of the group I have finished my novel. Because of the joke my now good friend played on me I'm living my dream.

Feel the fear and do it anyway!

However, even now my sister still has to get on me about sending out my query letters for the novel.

Carleen Brice said...

Lafreya, Good for you for finishing your novel! And good for your siser for making you send it out there!

Jamey said...

fear is something that i need to write. if i am afraid, i know that what i'm writing is important to me, that i'm on the right track. i get terrified that no one will like it. i get even more terrified when someone tells me they love something. it is fine to be afraid. the trick is to just do it anyway. i try not to think "i'm writing a novel". instead ,i say to myself, "i'm doing my 1000 words" or "i'm going to do a few hours of revision", so that it feels more like doing the dishes instead of trying to create LITERATURE. it's a muse responds to tricks and bribes.

a young writer once asked a mentor of mine, arthur flowers, what she should do if she got discouraged. he didn't skip a beat and said, "Quit. this isn't for the faint of heart.if you can do something else then do that." i thought that was incredibly harsh at the time, but now i understand. i needed to be more scared that my stories wouldn't get told than scared to tell them.

American Muslima Writer said...

It's amazing you post this coment NOW. I was just lamenting in my "other" blog to my old friends how scared I was to write and be published though I love writing. They all told me to be confident because they believed in me and since then I've started a writing blog (like I see you professionals doing). It's really helped me to feel more confident that I can speak my mind and deal with the comments.
One problem of getting involved with community for me is being in Middle East AND not having the money to join clubs or workshops but I still plod along writing whenever my kids let me and I think I'll worry about the publishing and business aspect after i've written more. I thank all those that have replied so far it really gave me courage that you professionals (and unpublished) are scared too! I saw these savy websites and was like I can't be like that but it's jsut about doing it. Now I have a website (though not very visited lol) but it's there and I accomplished something! So congrats to all of us who nto only admit our fear but try to conquor it!!!

Carleen Brice said...

Jamey, There's a solution: put your fear to work FOR you instead of against you. Love it!

American Muslima Writer, It was my hope that this blog and this post would encourage nonpublished writers by letting them know that we who have "made it" still have the same issues.

Sustenance Scout said...

As do those of us in the middle, Carleen; those of us who aren't beginners but who've yet to turn writing into a viable career. There's so much to fear, yet so much to reap from facing those fears, even if it's just meeting with book club folks who've read your book and are excited to talk with you about it. It's all so worth it! K.

Sustenance Scout said...

One other note, Carleen. After reading Amy's encouraging Be Bold post at TWG and now staring down a difficult story in the works, I'm reminded of the fear inherent in writing about personal, painful subjects. Deep breath, keep typing. K.

Carleen Brice said...

Karen, Good advice for all of us: "deep breath, keep typing."