A Writer’s Poison: Fear

Hi all, Kate here. It’s time for some honesty about art and the writing life, I think. I’ve been mulling over this post for probably two weeks, because it’s a tough topic and it’s impacted me quite a bit. Fear is a killer.  It takes a lot of forms, and some of them push us to try harder, but some of those fears are poisonous to writers.

I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I turned 12. I’m 26 now, so that’s 14 years of waiting. I wrote short stories and a (monstrous, plotless wonder of a) novel all through high school, and figured out it was hard. In college, I started studying great writers, and… man. Their stuff was so much better than mine. Deeper. More sophisticated. More creative. I didn’t have any ideas I could turn into a novel, not on par with those guys. An ugly, nasty fear took root: I didn’t have what it took.

But still, I wanted to be a novelist. I had to try. I didn’t write fiction, with the exception of one uninspired muddle of a short story for a class, through all of college. 4 years. After college, I found an idea and wrote a book (this took me 2 years, so add lots of discouragement, weeping, and emotional highs into that). I’d gotten it done, and I was proud of it. I had persevered! I’d beaten my fear- I could do this thing! I got the novel critiqued, and I kept hearing, “hey, you’re a good writer! Go, you!” And even now, I don’t think that novel is terrible stuff. But over time, I discovered it just… wasn’t unique enough. Two years of juggling writing and researching and a full-time job, and it was back to the starting line. So, back came that fear. Maybe I had some small amount of writing talent, but clearly it wasn’t enough. I didn’t know how to find original ideas or streamline a messy plot or master whatever “voice” was. More learning, more trying, more juggling and staying up late, and all that still afraid I wasn’t good enough.

Except now I was also afraid of other things. Afraid that whatever agent I signed with wouldn’t be able sell whatever book he/she signed me for. Afraid if my close friends and relatives read it, they’d dislike a lot of the content. Afraid I needed to stop trying to sign with an agent and go develop my skills more before jumping in again. Afraid of all the work and time and effort necessary to write another book, and now yet another. Afraid of the financial strain and time loss. Afraid, quite simply, that it will never happen for me.

We have to talk back to our fears, or they’ll control us. Through most of my childhood, fear controlled me- other fears, other areas of my life. It was crippling. I’m not going to let it have my writing, too.

Don’t let fear hold you back. Fear kills your art. It has no business making your decisions. Shove it to the corner, and get about turning your words into art. Maybe I don’t have an agent- yet. Maybe I’m not as good as John Green- yet. (Aim high, right?) But I’m getting better and I can see that. Don’t focus on how far you have to go or who is better than you. Ignore your fears and focus on your art.

Two things help me combat my fears. The first is art itself. Great writing, yes (Gone Girl- read it), but also movies, music, sculpture, paintings, architecture, plays– all art forms. When I see what’s possible, it makes me want to try harder and reminds me why I’m passionate about writing. Great art inspires great art. Consume it.

The second is my goals. Finding an agent isn’t my goal. Being published isn’t my goal. Having fans isn’t my goal. Those are all just a way to get there. My goal is to make words into art. Art that impacts, challenges, changes, or inspires the reader. Art that offers an idea of what it means to be human. If my goal is to write like that, I don’t have time for fear. I don’t have time for querying my first MS into the ground, hoping desperately some agent will take pity on me. I don’t have time to not do the work right the first time– I don’t have time for cutting corners. None of those fear-produced behaviors will get me where I want to go; they only slow me down.

Author and word genius Chuck Wendig says it well: Art harder.

Make art a practice. Make it a verb. Make it your goal. And clock those ten thousand hours. The rest will happen along the way.

7 thoughts on “A Writer’s Poison: Fear

  1. Pingback: Writerly Fears; or a Kick-in-the-Pants Pep Talk | The Grizzly Kid

  2. Well said, my dear!

    I kick that fear to the curb and it just keeps creeping back. Writers, as well as any artist/anyone with a goal, have to stay on the offensive against that determined beast, Fear.

    Your talent and disposition are going to take you far.

    I needed these words today. Thank you! xo

  3. That focus on one’s art can be so hard to come by, but for me it always boils down to giving myself permission to create. If I didn’t make myself buckle-down, fear would indeed get the best of me.

  4. Hiya!! Take that fear! Chop! to you self-doubt!
    Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to put into words the dark little secret that many of us battle daily. Twas exactly what I needed to st”art” my day.
    Onward and upward into the fog!
    ~Just Jill

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