Fear of Writing

Posted: 8 March 2011 in Write.
Tags: , ,

Yesterday evening I met with a fellow writer who confided her fear of putting the truth onto the page.  She didn’t express it in exactly that way, but that’s what she was saying when she told me she was worried about writing things that would hurt or offend people.  Equally worrisome, she said, was what readers might think.  Would they think, for instance, that her protagonist is her?  Would they assume the story was autobiographical?   For these reasons, the thought of sharing her work presents a somewhat daunting prospect.  Worse, she admitted that she shies away from writing anything that she feels goes too far.

Her sincerity was clear and I could read the genuine concern betrayed in her nervous laugh.  And I understood.  Because it’s hard to spell out our darkest thoughts, our most embarrassing actions, our secret truths with letters and words and sentences, to transform the private inner into the public outer, where we will be read and considered and judged.

Writing is hard.  So is life, which is why we feel compelled to write in the first place–to enter the fray and try to make sense of it all through own own personal expression.  And while the truths we’re getting at are universal, the personal expression of those truths is unique…and emotionally risky.

Of course I advised K. not to flinch, to wrestle that fear and pin those words to the page (actually, I wasn’t this eloquent then, but now I’ve had time to think of how I should have said it).  We can’t worry what people think of us, and besides we’re talking about fiction.  Moreover, our writing will only excel when we access the deepest parts of ourselves and win the epic struggle to articulate what we dredge up.

But K. got me thinking about the Fear of Writing.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing or how many publications you rack up, that fear of failure never goes away–and ultimately, it’s probably a good thing, because while such fear can be paralyzing, if we can manage to harness that psychic rush of adrenaline and redirect it, we can surprise ourselves.

Still, whenever I share my work with someone for the first time, I have that nauseating twisting deep in stomach.  My God, I think, will she think I’m like one of those tone-deaf kids who audition for American Idol and are truly astounded when they’re told they sound like a cat in heat? I’ve accepted that this feeling will never leave me, nor do I want it to.  As I told K., I believe that fear is a symptom of how much I care about the work.  If I don’t care about what I’m writing, I won’t care if someone thinks it’s dreck.  It’s the personal investment in our writing that makes us squirm when others deliver their verdict.

The real fear, though, is one that has little to do with others.  The real fear is the Blank Page.  It may as well have three gruesome heads, a ferocious roar and shark-sharp teeth.  There is nothing scarier than coming to that place of nothingness with the expectation of creating somethingness.  Not just any something either, but something valuable–full of inventive language, original insight and, yes, truth.

I look at that monster, that Blank Page, and it dares me to tattoo it with meaning, to find something to say that has undoubtedly been said before, but in a whole new way.  It bullies me and tells me I’m not nearly good enough to put anything down that will matter to anyone ten minutes after they’ve read it.

My fingertips hover over the keyboard and sometimes they tremble as the fear threatens to overwhelm–I can’t do this.   In the end, though, I know if I’m not careful, the page’s whiteness can blind me, and so I type a sentence and the black letters are like a light slap across the monster’s cheek.  I may not like the sentence, but the monster is roaring again so I don’t delete it, but instead write another and another until the page’s blankness is diminished.

What else can I do?  What else can any of us do but to stare the monster down and slay him with the words that will, eventually, accumulate into truths?

The Post-It on my laptop this week has a single word:  FEARLESSNESS.  In case I forget.

  1. khalsaken says:

    The note I mentally plastered in my frontal brain reads: “what are you afraid of?”

  2. marusso1030 says:

    Jude, I am so in love with your blog–the writing is beautiful and elegant. Are you on Twitter? I would love to circulate some of your posts, if you don’t mind.

    • jude polotan says:

      You’re the best, Maria–thanks!! I’m not really on Twitter, but I probably should get with the program already–ha ha. In the meantime, not only do I not mind if you circulate my posts, but I’d be way grateful!

  3. Thanks for your appreciated insights Jude. And thanks for your uniquely beautiful way of expressing them. I think the fear or writing…and even of living…starts to dissipate with a certain sort of self honesty. When we begin to grasp ourselves and our intentions, and if both those things are trying their best to do their best and to improve their “best”, then there is little room to be overly critical of oneself.

  4. agehlhaus says:

    Hey Jude – Thanks so much for this. As I enter the fray, your words will remain with me and provide comfort…

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