This is not one of those inspirational posts that talks with sanitized optimism and comfort about golly gee we all have fear and it’s important to overcome it. No, I’m going to talk about my own fear, my specific and ugly fear, and show you all the snot and the blotchy face and the sobbing. I’m baring my soul so I can have the cathartic experience and perhaps move on.
I’m afraid of starting new projects. I think I’ve gotten to a placid feeling in my life of having plenty of projects due – book contracts or school assignments or story requests – that I have gotten lazy. Nine years ago I had no audience, no readers, and I thought, hey, let’s do this podcasting thing. A project that had no money, no reward, just This Might Be Fun. And it was.
I don’t think like that anymore.
In my own defense, if I have a contract, it takes precedence. I shouldn’t blow off school work when I get a wild idea. But you know what? Right now I’m between contracts. I’m about to graduate from school. I have limitless potential. And I’m fucking terrified.
- I’m afraid of failure.
- I’m afraid of succeeding and not knowing how to handle it.
- I’m afraid there are more eyes on me than ever and I’m open to more criticism.
- I’m afraid of starting something and fizzling out and slinking away, ashamed. That’s probably the biggest one, the fear of my own lack of motivation.
I know that everything I say on I Should Be Writing is true – that you have to put fears in the Happy Box, that you have to strangle the Inner Editor, that you have to understand that failure, rejection, criticism, none of those will kill you. You can look at authors and other creatives who have tanked their careers (I often marvel at Hollywood in this case) and then five or ten years later rise from the ashes like the phoenix, stronger and better and more popular than ever.
But that stuff is hard to internalize. I feel its truth when I’m saying it on the show, but during the dark times, when I’m not podcasting, when i’m sitting here going AH GAWD I AM A FRAUD AND EVERYONE WILL FIGURE IT OUT ANY TIME NOW, that’s when I’m not on the mic, and I’m not saying the truths, and it’s when I need to hear it the most.
So this is my baring of the soul, the open look at the ugly cry. The truth is I’m so damn afraid of every project I have in mind. It is still hard to look at feedback and critique as helpful instead of “THIS IS DRIVEL QUIT NOW AND GO BACK TO MAKING COFFEE FOR A LIVING.” It’s hard to look at failed projects and think, “OK, what did I learn from this?” instead of “FAILURE MEANS I SUCK AND SHOULD QUIT.”
My subconscious always speaks in all caps. Little punctuation. I know it’s annoying, shit, I live with it every day.
When I’m feeling low, I can’t even look at successes without seeing downsides. I’ve written every day for 393 days? Well, somewhere around July I stopped hitting my big daily wordcount goal (which was something like 600 a day) and went back to hitting minimum 250. Sometimes I do more, but I haven’t been able to work up a good streak of writing over 500 words a day. I won an award? Well, that was for potential. I can easily not live up to THAT expectation. I got a book deal? Great, but those books are done and finished. What is in the future for me?
The absolute worst part of the fear is that when I speak them or write them down, they sound illogical and whining.
I don’t feel like I have the right to have these fears.
I did have a well-received book, I did win an award, I am about to graduate with my MFA. My career is going great. The answers to these fears are clear and obvious.
Airing these fears makes me feel ashamed. But I don’t feel as if I can work through them if I let them fester, so here they are.
I’m afraid nearly all the time. I hold back creatively nearly all the time.
It feels hypocritical since I give advice to deal with this stuff. But that’s one reason I give the advice; the problems of writers are so obvious to me because I feel them all the time. I don’t know if it will make you feel any better, knowing you’re not alone if you feel this way. It could make you feel worse since you might hope that these things go away once you get a book deal/the book comes out/you win an award. For me, they didn’t.
You know when you’re walking down the street and you stumble and flail like an idiot, and you look around and see no one saw, you have that sense of relief that kind of washes over the embarrassment? That’s being a new writer and writing something that doesn’t work. Doing a project that no one cares about. Getting a rejection. Yeah, you stumbled, and that can be disappointing, even disheartening but who cares? No one saw.* Try again. Next time you won’t be as likely to stumble.
The thing is, when you have eyes on you and you stumble, well, it’s a little more embarrassing.
And so, now that more eyes are on me, I’m terrified of stumbling; I have held back. And my cold logical stern mind says yeah, but if you don’t walk anywhere, you don’t go anywhere. You take the risk of stumbling when you take that step. And the rewards are worth that risk, dammit.
So there is my ugly cry. I’m afraid of new things. And I’m airing this on New Year’s Day to be cathartic and hopefully push me into realizing that these fears, while very real, are also very stupid, and I need to just create and get it done and over with, and move on. 2004 Mur would be appalled if she saw how I hold back today. We don’t want to appall our past selves.
Now, to create.
Happy New Year!
* And if you’re thinking, “THE EDITOR SAW, MUR!” I promise you, it’s rare the editor formed any opinion about you when they rejected you. They probably didn’t even register your name, unless they’ve seen it many times before. And EVEN THEN you’re still a new writer, and all new writers are expected to submit and be rejected. It’s part of the process. You see it as huge,** that the editor is singling you out to reject you, while you’re just a part of the process to them. You can see this as a positive or a negative. I try really hard to see it as a positive.
** And it is huge. I remember the sting of rejection, and still experience it. But there’s the sting of rejection and the humiliation of public failure, two different feelings, two horrible things.