Thursday, December 16, 2010

More on writing fear: at least I'm in good company!

Last entry I blogged about fear and writing. Craig wasn't sure what I was afraid of, so I decided to write a little more about it today. No I don't have a creepy guy in a black hat stalking me, like poor Johnny Depp's character in Secret Window

In my case, the fear is less tangible, but it is a part of my writing process. I've come to learn, however, that not all writers experience it. Like a lot of fears, it isn't rational but that doesn't make it less real to me. 

Almost every time I write I'm scared of trying to get what's in my head, down in words. It's not worrying I can't be good (although I've had those moments too). It's that I'm afraid of the monumental task of piecing the story together so that it works to my satisfaction. When I sit down to write, there is so much that is unknown, and I'm the one who has to face that unknown, alone. There are always a huge pile of problems to be solved, and most of the time, I worry that I won't be able to solve them. I want to solve them. I want to find the story and get it down in such a way that it resonates with other people. The fact that I've solved countless similar problems in past writing sessions rarely reassures me.

I've been writing fiction for the better part of a decade now, and it's clear to me that this fear is just part of my process. If I want to write and tell stories, I have to accept that I'm going to be afraid a lot of the time. I think it's worth it, but that doesn't make it easy.

And I'm not alone. Here are some quotes from that book I mentioned in my last entry The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes, "Page Fright" section (p. 24).

All my life, I've been frightened at the moment I sit down to write.
—Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It's really scary just getting to the desk—we're talking now five hours. My mouth gets dry, my heart beats fast. I react psychologically the way other people react when the plane loses an engine.
—Fran Lebowitz
I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terror, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one.
—John Steinbeck
Blank pages inspire me with terror.
—Margaret Atwood

See? I'm not the only 'fraidy-cat writer in the world! Wouldn't it be great if Queen Latifa from Stranger than Fiction could come and give us all some moral support? Sadly, that's not something I can count on so I guess I'll just face my fears, and write anyway.


Kimberly Steele said...

Funny how I don't believe in ghosts AT ALL but I get super creeped out when I sit down to write them. If I were offered 1000 dollars to spend the night in the dungeon of Scotland's Glamis Castle (the "most haunted" castle in Scotland) I'd do it in a heart beat. As long as I had access to a pillow, a blanket, and some sort of washroom I'd sleep like a baby. Nevertheless, I have nightmares about ghosts and entities from other dimensions that manifest only on the page.

craigr1971 said...

Very interesting, your fear. I agree, fears are almost by definition, irrational (not white sharks and politicians!). I write some passages knowing I'm nailing it, and others like 'I hope no one notices this is a weak segment'. but I wouldn't call it fear, more guilt maybe, for having knowingly-weak inclusions. I guess fear is okay, as long as it is not a problem. If fear makes you falter or avoid or drink heavily (wait, that one's okay). If any emotion is strong but 'harmless', it is ok. If there is a negative associated with the fear, then I guess you'll have to work on it. If you do need help, let me know - I'm a profound bull-shitter (meaning my bull shit is truly profound, not the other meaning. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding - you've got great DoD-flavored pudding, so don't sweat it too too much. Last point. the fact that you produced a gem like DoD, and you're shorter works, and they have been received objectively well, you have not let your fear cripple you. How many people have you run into who have said they would like to/are going to/ are in the process of writing a novel? Lots, but they haven't and you have ;)

R.E. (Renée) Chambliss said...

Kimberly- I get creeped out by my imaginations sometimes too. Once I was in a funk and didn't know why and then realized it was related to something disturbing that had happened in my story.

Craig- Thanks! I think it's okay, even though I sometimes wish I could write without fear. Have you ever read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott? She's hilarious and has some great descriptions of fear and insecurity and how to write anyway!