I’ve always believed that it’s the most basic emotions that tie us to each other, among them, love, hope, happiness. And fear. Definitely fear. We’re all afraid of something. I’m not talking phobias either. The sort of fear I’m talking about is deeper than that and more about emotion. What we’re afraid of will vary from one person to another, as well as the number and strengths of our fears. What’s common to all of us about these fears? That we let it stop us sometimes. Writers do that a lot. One of the theories of writer’s block that I’ve heard, and like best, is that it’s caused by fear. It could be fear of any number of things related to writing, but I think it’s likely correct. Certainly, I know fear shaped my early years of trying to become a writer.
You see, having a lot of story ideas isn’t new to me. That’s been going on since my late teens. You wouldn’t believe the number of old notebooks and sheafs of paper I have lying around with notes for story ideas on them. Well, maybe some of you would. I’m talking stacks. Even if I never had another new idea, I could likely write forever, just off of that backlog. Yet none of that got me any closer to my dream of being a published author for the longest time. Why? Because I was afraid, though I covered it well.
In those days, I flitted from idea to idea like an ADD butterfly. I’d have one, make a bunch of notes, and then there would be another story idea. I’d run off chasing that shiny new one. Why? Well, I told myself quite often that it was a better idea. Sometimes I told myself I wasn’t yet ready to write the old one, that it wasn’t developed enough or I wasn’t good enough, but that I’d come back to it when I’d learned enough. Any of this sound familiar to you guys? I’d bet serious money it does to at least some of you.
A friend of mine tried to point out to me what I was doing, back when I was in university. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t react well, but that was because I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. He told me (as best I remember his words at the time) that I thought my ideas were good enough. I interpreted this as he didn’t think they were that good at all, partly because I was afraid of exactly that. I let my fear interpret his advice.
It was only when I started taking writing seriously and turning ideas into real stories that I finally understood the truth of what he’d meant. It was that I acted like having the idea alone was good enough, like I never needed to take it further, to confront my fear that the fully realized story wouldn’t live up to the promise of the idea. Story ideas have a perfection to them, or so I used to think. I really did. They could still be anything, everything. They could still be the perfect story that everyone would love, if I never did anything that might screw them up.
What I’ve realized since then, since I started regularly turning my ideas into stories, is that no idea is as amazing as the story it unfurls into. Perfection doesn’t exist anyway, and an unused idea is a stunted, sad thing. Instead, the story, even in first draft, has so much more life to it. It’s the life of the characters and their world, the life your imagination breathes into it that makes the idea amazing and beyond, but you have to let it be more than just an idea to get there. You have to turn it into a story, and that means dealing with the possibility of making mistakes with it head on.
How do you deal with such fear? I mean, it’s almost certainly never going to go away. I know that I still worry when I start working with a new story idea, like Masques recently, that I’ll screw it up, that I’ll turn it into crap instead of something awesome. That’s definitely the fear talking. Instead of letting it win and giving up, I face it. I acknowledge it. Yes, I could turn that idea into a turd. Or I could have all the pieces but write a draft that’s utter shite. I could take either one down a rabbit hole that just isn’t redeemable. I could totally waste my time with any of these possible outcomes.
But doing nothing with that idea would be an even worse waste in my mind. So I remind myself that if the idea turns into a turd, I can still work with it and find something good to begin again from. If I write a draft that’s awful, well, I can learn from it and and start over again, doing better the next time. Both of these situations happened with Bound the first time I tried to write it. If I end up down a rabbit hole, I can always back out of it, going back to where it still worked and starting forward again. I’ve done this on a number of stories, including half of a short story that I still have to go back for at a later date. And, of course, I never let myself forget that the first draft is just a place to start, that editing is there to make it better, but I have to have a completed draft to edit. I need to be able to see the whole picture that I’m working with for editing. It’s just the way I am. Finally, as long as you learn from your mistakes, there’s no such thing as wasted writing time. Sometimes I just have to remind myself of that.
All of these are ways I answer my fear so I can keep moving forward, so I don’t let it stop me from learning and growing as a writer and finishing work. Certainly I use these to keep fear from preventing me from even starting. Of course, fear doesn’t give up either. It loves to morph on you, to try to present its case in a new way. For me, it’s most often a change of wording or perspective, so that the same old fear looks new. “I’ve read something like this before.” That’s really just me thinking I won’t make this idea original enough (AKA doing it justice). “I could never do enough research on this to really understand it.” And of course, the inevitable “I might offend someone.” Ashes and Angels causes that one a lot for me. I still suspect Saul’s going to get me killed for blasphemy, but I refuse to let fear kill a VERY promising idea, just because I might not write it well enough on the first attempt. 😉
I think every writer out there faces fear of something as we do this incredible, imaginative thing, though the specific fears will vary. We are all different, after all. The ways in which we cope will have to adapt to those personal fears and worries, as well as our individual situations. What’s constant is that we all experience it. We can offer each other support through it, but the most important thing is to understand what you’re afraid of, to face it and find a way to counter it. Sometimes, that might just involve a talk with a friend, other times, deep introspection. Whatever works for you is always my advice.
So, I’ve admitted at least some of my fears. How about you? What are you afraid of as a writer, or even in your daily life? What are you or will you do to face and counter those fears?