Fear is vast and complicated, rational and irrational, rooted from our infancy or stuck on the bottom of our souls from some dumb comment last week. They come from poor relationships, misguided truths, flimsy advice, or the most blatant of lies. And if we’re writers, desiring to get our words “out there” the fear may be worse.
There has never been a writer, ever, in the history of storytelling, that didn’t have one sort of fear or anxiety or another. Your fear is not unique. You can rest assured that writers of all generations have wrestled with doubt and insecurity, anxiety and timidity. You are joining a generational chorus of the anxious. Some of us have navigated this well and figured out ways to overcome it. Some of us attempt to drown it in alcohol. Too many of us have slipped into self-destructive darkness to silence it.
Back in 2006, I came across a short story contest opportunity in a magazine. I said to myself, I could never do that. I’m not good enough.
But then my 2-year-old son threw another temper tantrum because I wouldn’t let him scoop water out of the toilet and drink it. I remember thinking that I should have some sort of intermediary who could negotiate between my reasonable requests and his irrational need to put gross things in his mouth.
I had an idea for a story: what if there was such a negotiation? I wrote a story about a cocky lawyer who arrives at a frazzled mother’s home to go over the demands of his toddler client.
Even after I had a friend edit and coach me, I was still neurotic about the story: what if it’s no good? What if I fail? What if . . . ”
Then, I did the unthinkable: I submitted it in the contest!
The results? I tied with four other authors for Honorable Mention, which was the equivalent second prize. My name was in print and I got a certificate! My first short story was a success!
I was satisfied with the result. Deep down, this little victory was more important in the long run, than whatever prize I would earn. I had conquered my fear! I had taken the first step in becoming a writer! I can’t say that my anxieties died that day. But that was the first time I decided not to let my fears stop me. Had I not taken that chance, there’s no telling where the despair would have led me.
Julia Cameron said this about fear in The Artist’s Way. (p. 152) “Fear is the true name for what ails the blocked artist. It may be fear of failure or fear of success. Most frequently, it is the fear of abandonment. This fear has roots in childhood reality. Most blocked artists tried to become artists against either their parents’ good wishes or their parent’s good judgment. For a youngster, this is quite a conflict. To go squarely against your parents’ values means you’d better know what you’re doing. You better not just be an artist. You’d better be a great artist if you’re going to hurt your parents so much . . .”
Fear’s first objective is to paralyze you into inaction. Fear wins when you stop writing in 10-minute increments. Fear wins when you don’t join that writing group. Fear wins when your files get fatter and fatter with unread manuscripts. Fear wins when you decline a critique partner’s offer to read your work and make suggestions. Fear wins when you believe the resistance inside you that tells you lies about writing, about creativity, or about yourself.
What I found, even when the darkest thoughts haunted me, was the 10-minute method of writing is a good antidote to fear. If you are sitting down to write and the shadows of your fear are slipping in behind you, set your timer and write for 10-minutes, as if you are racing against it. If you don’t overthink or overanalyze, you can out type your fear. The timer will ding and you’ll have words on the page (not necessarily perfect ones) before your fear realizes you were working. Believe me when I tell you, fear will tire faster than you will. Keep going.
One of my favorite images on Pinterest is a saying, “Everything we want is on the other side of fear.” It is. Let’s not waste any more time letting fears get in the way of our dreams.