Monday, October 8, 2012

WRITING AROUND FEAR

This post is inspired by the comment Caryn Caldwell (thanks!) left on my prior post suggesting that aspiring authors often avoid writing rather than face their fear of it. I'm using fear in a general sense here. Other words that may apply include:
  • Apprehension
  • Worry
  • Embarrassment
  • and Doubt, Doubt, Doubt
I assume that most of us start writing fiction because we want to read something we cannot find on the family bookshelves or at the local library, or because we want to take a favorite story further (some day I'll tell you about my Terminator fan fiction. It's probably the best shit I've ever written), or because we have this desire to communicate outside of the parameters of regular, daily conversations.

So then why do we stop a hundred or a thousand words into a novel? Why can we complete chapters one through three, but always shy away from starting chapter four?

It's because of all those things above. In our minds we have these splendid, sprawling, Important stories filled with impassioned characters and meaningful conflicts. And then we look at the words on the page and they don't match.

And you worry whether you will ever, with your hands and your vocabulary, be able to do justice to the scenes in your mind. For comfort, you fall back into a favorite story written by a favorite author, that one where you've memorized the lines and dog-eared the book and can see, really see, the story unfolding. And you doubt you'll ever get to that level, where you can inspire the same sort of absorption and urgency in the reader.

And you're afraid.

I'm here to tell you that it doesn't matter. No, in that first foray into writing, you most likely won't be able to do justice to the stories in your head. The brain is a marvelous and powerful thing, but she's stingy with what she'll let you take from her. A good description here, a great line of dialogue there. But you have to sweat and bleed to fill in the words around those. There is no magical inspiration, no muse feeding you words so that you feel like a conduit for brilliance.

Writing isn't easy.

It's not easy for you. It wasn't easy for your favorite author, either. But then, what is? Did you drive like Steve McQueen in Bullet the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? Did you score a goal the first time you stepped onto a soccer field? Did you bake a perfect cake the first time you cracked an egg?

No? Good. Then this will be a little easier.

You might never lose the (general) fear of writing. But the only way to get close to being the writer you want to be is to keep trying. Keep writing. Expose yourself to critiques. Twist that gear inside your ego that allows you to find the valuable comments in critiques and revise accordingly. Read critically. Repeat.

Don't sit in front of the keyboard telling yourself that you're going to write a Great Novel. Settle in with the idea that you're going to tell a good story. If it's not good after the first draft, take some time away, then come back and fix it.

The words are not absolute, no matter how long it took you to write them.

They belong to you and must bend to your will. Mix them up like Scrabble tiles if you have to and use the individual letters to build a better story.

I don't have a cure for fear. I believe that every author, even the most successful, still feels it from time to time, if not always. But I do believe there are cures for bland writing, and that those cures are persistence and the ability to revise and reinvent.

What am I missing? What other cures and tonics and, dare I ask, ointments are out there for writers?

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