Friday, January 29, 2016

The Fear

A popular post from February 2011

By Josi S. Kilpack

I had the chance to talk with a Humanities class at Utah State University on Thursday about being a writer. After the class, a handful of students came up to ask me some questions. We talked for about half an hour about their own personal journeys with writing, much of what we talked about was fear.

I'm afraid to let anyone read it.
I'm afraid that I'm not writing fast enough.
I'm afraid I'm wasting my time.
I'm afraid of being rejected.
I'm afraid of not knowing my ending when I start.

I did what I could to help alleviate the fears that each of these budding writers had and encourage them to move forward. On the way home I felt almost silly. I talked a good talk and I do hope I inspired them to work on what's holding them back, but I worry that I talked as though I have no more fears. I mean, I'm Published! I've arrived! I reached that goal! What do I have to be afraid of?

I'm afraid my current book is garbage.
I'm scared to death of Goodreads reviews.
I'm afraid all the stories are starting to sound like each other.
I'm afraid that my children will grow up to resent what my writing took from them.
I'm afraid my publisher will have a month of revisions for me.
I'm afraid my sales will go down.
I'm afraid that my lifestyle is adjusting to my current royalties and it won't last.
I'm afraid of the newer, younger, hipper writers doing such great stuff.
I'm terrified of ever having to find an agent.
I'm afraid of my publisher deciding they hate working with me.

I'm afraid that my writing isn't as good as it could be.
I'm afraid that I'm writing too fast.
I'm afraid that my current scene will end up being cut, wasting the hours I've spent on it.
I'm afraid of coming across as arrogant.
I'm afraid of writing blog posts that don't sound as good as everyone elses.
I'm afraid that one day I'll realize I hate writing.
I'm afraid that one day I'll run out of stories completely.
I'm afraid that my house will never be clean again.
I'm afraid that one day I won't be HERE and I'll miss it.
I'm afraid I'll never get THERE and I'll feel like a failure.
I'm scared that I'm at page 239 and don't know the ending.
I'm worried about finishing by my deadline.
I'm scared to ask my beta-readers to read another book.
I'm afraid that I haven't taken advantage of every opportunity out there.
I'm afraid my fears are holding me back.
I'm afraid of taking on anything new.
I'm afraid of not using my abilities in every way I can.

I know that fear is part of life, that overcoming our fears makes us stronger. But it doesn't feel that way when you're in it, when the fear is pressing down on you and you can't imagine opening the door to see what's standing behind it. I am afraid. Of many things. And yet I keep writing. Sometimes I wonder why. Sometimes I know the answer. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'm so tired of it, and sometimes I feel like I'd shrivel up and die without it.

So why do I do it? Why do those students do it? Why do you do it? I think each of us are driven by different things, but I believe all those things tie back to something divine--some way in which our writing is meant to not only bless the lives of other people, but bless our lives as well. And I don't think that blessing for ourselves will be a published book on the shelf of a library. At least, not the biggest blessing. I believe that the blessing is in the hunt, the journey, the digging down within ourselves as we seek for that buried treasure. I think we'll find other things along the way--discipline, goal setting, learning, re-learning, friendships, teaching, lifting others, and lifting ourselves. I believe as we drop our chin and push through the storms of our own self-doubt, we will become stronger people, not just stronger writers. But I also believe that the fear will never entirely leave us. There will always be something to be afraid of--always. And sometimes we'll drown in it, even though we tell ourselves we're stronger than that. And sometimes we'll thrash about and swim for shore and make it out of the quagmire enough to see the distance we've covered.

Anytime we commit to pursue something akin to creation, something that will stand in our way. Because creating is divine, there will always be those influences determined to stop us, to leave us cowering in the corner, to have us giving in to the belief that there is just no way we can do it. I'm not going to tell you to embrace the fear, or stab it through the heart. You can't kill it. You can't ignore it entirely. The best you can do is move forward anyway, accepting that while you write your stories you are living your own. And your story will be fraught with difficulty and triumph, whimpering and song, success and failure. Accept it, and keep going, and be sure to take the time every now and again to look over your shoulder at the battle fields you've already passed through, count the enemy you have slain and then look into the eyes of the next one. Bit by bit, day by day, one sentence at a time. The fears you face now CAN stop you if you so choose, but understand that if you keep going and this fear eventually lies dead at your feet, another will rise up. Do not look at your writing as a solitary goal, rather see it for what it is--a journey that does not end until you throw up your hands and decide the game is over. It's all up to you. Every bit of it. Allow yourself to get stronger by writing despite the fears; putting yourself out there despite all the reasons you don't want to.

Now I'm afraid I've gone on too long about this...

Happy Writing.


Raejean said...

Thanks for this post. My excuse for not writing more has been the other responsibilities in my life. Recently, I realized that time is a big factor in my life, but more than that it's fear. I helps to see it for what it is, and to know even successful writers like yourself deal with it constantly.

Those times when fear starts to be overwhelming, is when we should think of the definition of courage. Courage isn't being without fear, it's doing what needs to be done despite the fear.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I love this! I've tried to stop writing and can go for a little while, but then life becomes hollow. My purpose and my dreams disappear. Thank you for putting into words so many of my fears and my joys of writing.

Susan said...

This was so good, Josi! And something I'm trying hard to get over. You beat one of those fear demons and another seems to pop up. I agree though--creating is divine.

Chantele Sedgwick said...

Amazing advice. Thank you so much for this post. :)

Julie Wright said...

for the briefest of minutes, I thought I was reading a list of my own fears . . . man you nailed it! And so you know, *this* particular beta reader will be furious and offended if she doesn't get to read the next manuscript.

Jewel Allen said...

I am always scared to let someone read my revised manuscript. That's when I have to let go of my baby into the world and let it take steps on its own; that's how it grows. :-).

Love this post, Josi. I can picture you being so encouraging to these aspiring writers as you always have been to me...

Go Aggies! (I just had to throw this in there :-)

Curtis said...

Very good post, Josi