Tuesday, August 4, 2009

32) writing and fear

the literary life 8/4/09

Yesterday, a teacher friend of mine came over and we talked about what it means to confront our fears in life. Later I thought about how fear can play a role in the writing life as well. There is so much to be fearful of. We might fear
  • we don't have anything meaningful to say
  • what we want to say has already been said, and better
  • we wont be able to say it well
  • there's too much competition out there
  • we're wasting our time
  • failure
  • we've already written our best work (back in 7th grade)
  • we don't have enough time
  • piles of never-ending rejections
  • we've made the wrong choices
  • we'll get consumed by our writing lives
  • we'll get lonely
  • all our critics were right
  • we should/shouldn't do an MFA, stay at our job, stay committed to a writing project
And the list can go on. With the writing "noise" out there, the manyness of blogs and journals and books and opinions and contests, it's hard not to feel daunted. It's hard not to walk into a library and look around and wonder if our writing is really needed.
The good news is that fear is something many writers experience. In this experience of doubting ourselves and our work, we are not alone. Fear, when snowballing out of control and holding us back, can become an obstacle; however, fear, when kept in check, can also be an ally. Can be the thing that adds a spark. Isn't our fear an indicator of how much we love something, hold it dear, value it? Isn't fear the thing that intuitively helps us measure our level of concern for something? I believe that fear is built into the experience of love, and it is possible to love our fear. It is possible to recognize it as a daily companion in the writing life, ironically a kind of gift inside us. In making the choice to lead a writing life, we are taking a risk. Every time we make the decision to love someone or something, it is a risk. We make ourselves vulnerable. We place ourselves into the palm of the unknown.

When it comes to the things we care about deeply, there is more to fear. The decisions can be harder and the doubts can cut deeper. Know that there's a difference between "fear as an obstacle" and fear "as an ally". When trying to make a difficult decision (am I ready to send out my novel), know you'll feel the fear, regardless. The key thing in such a moment is to figure out which kind of fear it is, the obstacle or ally kind. If it's the obstacle kind, then maybe it's holding us back and we should try to face it. If it's the ally kind, maybe it's cautioning us, reminding us that sometimes we can get impulsive and it's probably a good idea to wait a while.
In the daily life of writing, know that fear is often a response to love. Next time you feel afraid sitting at your writing desk, see that it is often an ally trying to counsel you; let yourself laugh if it's an obstacle trying to hinder you. As a rule, label fear a friend reminding you what you are passionate about--reminding you to keep doing the work you love to keep fear in its place.

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