As writers, we consider ourselves sensitive, inquisitive, and observant. All great skills for writing complex characters and meaningful narrative, right? The problem is, with these sensibilities we’re easily exposed, we tap into our emotional hot zones and we’re vulnerable. We walk the long mile to understanding another’s plight, and this is painful. Not only is it painful, but we must put our faith in something we’ve made that is ultimately subjective in its value. The creative process demands it. Wrestling with demons is part of what we do. Daily. But there’s one particular demon that is uglier, more terrible, more devastating than the others. It overwhelms us. It cripples us. It steals our self-confidence, our faith, and spreads like a disease within us. This demon is FEAR. I say “we”, because it’s all of us, isn’t it? I was surprised to learn how many writers felt alone in that fear so I went on a research mission. I asked a pack of authors at different places in their careers if they’re fearful during the writing process. Did it stay with them? If so, what scared them most, or what was most difficult? This is what they had to say:
“There’s a point around halfway through every book at which I fear I have lost whatever magic and skills I’ve ever possessed, and I worry that I will never finish the book, and that if I do, it will suck. I’ve come to recognize it as the Soggy Middle Syndrome, and much like the Swamps of Sadness, just giving it a name and fighting through it helps.”—Delilah Dawson, author of WAKE OF VULTURES
“Someone said the longest journey is from the brain to the page. I struggle with getting my thoughts onto the page. Somehow, they’re always better unformed than formed. I fear never being as good as I want to be.”—Martin Fletcher, bestselling author of THE WAR REPORTER & award-winning journalist for NBC
“The hardest thing about writing is the self doubt. Every time I sit down to write I have to shut it off. It tells me that my ideas are bad, my writing is clumsy, my plot lines broken and boring. It whispers that nobody will ever want to read what I write, or that if they do it will be to mock it behind my back. I’m always fighting the secret belief that maybe I used to be able to write, but I’ve lost the knack of it and will never produce anything good again. —Kerry Schafer, author of THE BETWEEN series
“What I fear most: that I won’t be able to arrange the words in a way that lives up to the hopes I have for the story.”—Jan Ellison, author of A SMALL INDISCRETION
“As I strip bare my life to transcribe my worst pains, my greatest joys, my fears and loves, and write my heart onto blank pages, will it amount to a story even remotely moving? Will all I have even be enough?”—Marci Jefferson, author of ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS
“That what I am writing is BORING!”—M.J. Rose, NYT bestselling author of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS
“I hate the blank page. It mocks me, and unless I go in with a map (an outline) and a flashlight (an irrational belief in the magic of it all), I will get thrown against the rocks of the blank page and torn to pieces. Revision by comparison is easier–you already have a garden roughed out, it’s just a matter of tidying up and planting things.”—Alexandra Hughes, author of THE MIND INVESTIGATIONS series
“That the idea in my head will never get down on the page properly.”—Catherine McKenzie, bestselling author of SMOKE
“I fear the off days, those days when my mind’s blank and I can’t seem to settle down to the writing, and even when I do open the document on my laptop, it’s like pulling teeth. When this happens, I fear that I’ve lost my writing mojo, that I’ll never complete the manuscript, and that, basically, I suck. For me, the key is to let the writing go for that day. Truly let it go, like, don’t think about it at all. The writing always comes back to me; I just need to trust that.”–Lisa Alber, author of THE COUNTY CLARE MYSTERIES
“Inauthentic emotions on the page–not getting the emotional tenor of a scene or an encounter right.”—Bruce Holsinger, author of THE INVENTION OF FIRE
“The dread of what a long haul is ahead of me, sometimes years!, and the fact that all that effort may not add up to brilliance, or anything at all.”—Karen Essex, international bestselling author of DRACULA IN LOVE
“What do I fear most? ‘THE FEAR’. That awful moment (around 60,000 words) when I begin to really struggle with plot, pace, characters – everything! – and convince myself this is the worst thing ever written. It happens every time. Writing through this phase is like walking through a thorny forest, but write through it you must because waiting somewhere up ahead is a wonderful ‘ta-dah!’ moment where everything makes sense again.”—Hazel Gaynor, NYT bestselling author of A MEMORY OF VIOLETS
Regardless of your place in the writing journey, we are ALL AFRAID. Afraid of not being good enough, of never being successful (or being successful ever again). Or the worst of all, of never being able to write again.
But like most things, fear can be turned on its head. Yes, it can have a positive spin. FEAR CAN MOTIVATE YOU.
Without fear, we become complacent and stagnant. With stagnation comes a plateau in our storytelling, in our growth. We write the same manuscript over and over again, and we become a cliché. So BE AFRAID, than funnel that fear into your gas tank. Let it be the fuel that drives you forward, helps you focus your efforts, and pushes you to greater heights.
Fear can be crippling, but it can also make you the best writer you can be.
What scares you and how will you work to vanquish it? Happy Halloween!