Just Why Is Writing So Scary?


If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

Would you hurry up and write? I'm getting a backache

Why am I thinking about writing so much as of late? The deeper question is, why am I doing so little of it? As a writer I’m caught in that permanent netherworld between thought and action, as if Hamlet were sitting at a Compaq instead of in the royal court of Denmark. Writing is very easy to think about and very hard to do. Why?

Like all acts of creativity, writing is taking a part of oneself and putting it out in the open. For me, it’s the equivalent of painting a bullseye on my chest and taking 15 minutes in an archery range. It’s scary and it carries the risk of rejection, heartbreak, and even worse. Yeah, I’ve heard the anecdotes about Stephen King and Katherine Stockett getting scores of rejection letters. No, it doesn’t steel my courage any more. If anything, it makes the fear worse. But I, and only I, can break through that fear.

Why am I writing, and why do I have this ridiculous beard?

Another fear factor when it comes to writing? It’s all uncharted territory. Like Columbus or Magellan sailing into previously unknown waters, wondering if there really were any sea monsters. Yeah, there’s no such thing as purely original writing anymore (don’t you know all the good stories are already taken?) However, there’s never been a combination of words, punctuation marks and special characters precisely like yours. Unless you’re copying verbatim from someone else’s work, which is definitely not kosher. When we write, it’s as if we’re building a house or giving birth to a new entity. Nobody’s seen it but us.

Which leads me to another problem for writers. Many of us (I’d argue the majority) are dyed-in-the-wool introverts, yet writing, by necessity, is a social occupation. If you want to write anything beyond a personal journal or private blog, it’s necessary to put your work out there for others to read. This is where I’ve personally had a lot of angst and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I have P&Q, I write a few fanfics here and there, but, beyond that, nothing. Just the thought of pitching my work to someone I don’t know gives me conniptions. I know I’ve got to get over this particular phobia if I’m ever going to succeed. After all, what’s the use of a manuscript if it’s just gathering dust in someone’s desk drawer or lingering on someone’s hard drive?

Honestly, the best thing I (or anyone else) can do to conquer these fears is simply to do it. I make excuses, but there are none good enough for me to neglect my writing. I was scared of a lot of activities (riding a horse, flying an airplane) before actually trying them. Why is writing so different? After all, I’m not likely to break a collarbone or die in a fireball of jet fuel while writing. Am I?

In some ways, the small fears are worse than the “big” ones (death, bodily harm, loss of a loved one, etc.) They add up. I’m sure most writers, like me, have a nagging little critical voice that constantly tells them they’re not good enough. Their writing sucks. They’ll never make it. Oh, yeah, it never shuts up.

Another bad idea...or is it?

This weekend, for a change, I’m going to tell that little voice to shut the hell up. I’m going to remind myself that I’m not going to become the next David Sedaris or Amy Tan overnight. Writing takes practice and it’s not supposed to be a pain in the ass. It is, if I’ll let it be, a pleasure and an exercise in creativity. Nobody has to see it but me. In fact, I think I’ll look back to a passage in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird which I always liked, which encouraged us to write “shitty first drafts.” That’s OK. The act of writing is one of liberation.

And who knows? Once I actually knock out a manuscript, then I’ll see where it takes me. Fear may linger, but, I’ll have a couple thousand words to shove in its fanged face.

Because I’m a writer. And I have to write, no matter how scary things get. Otherwise, what would I have to be afraid of?

My writing demon looks like *this*

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to click ‘Like’ and subscribe to P&Q! Got comments, suggestions or other helpful stuff? Send it to wikusandmurdock@yahoo.com!
 
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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on August 18, 2011.

One Response to “Just Why Is Writing So Scary?”

  1. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ~ George Orwell.

    I’ve been writing for almost 30 years, and hardly anyone I know has ever read any of my stuff. My blog had just over 100 views on its busiest day (some days it has none at all), but a New York agent recently gave me hope that my writing might not be all that bad after all… and YOUR blog is far more popular and much more interesting than mine.

    We come here again and again because you are talented, and because something in your words compels people to keep reading.

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