Monday, September 9, 2013

The Secret About Fear

Three hours ago, I sat down at my computer with the intention of getting some serious writing done, as I’m woefully behind on my wordcount. Since then, I’ve done the following, roughly in this order:

  • Made myself a cup of tea
  • Drawn a self-portrait on a series of nearby post-it notes
  • Concluded that I’m a terrible drawer
  • Researched online drawing/painting classes I could take
  • Read a few sentences from the WIP, cringed, minimized Word and started flipping through real estate magazines instead
  • Tried (unsuccessfully) to teach my dog to play dead
  • Stared off into space. A lot.
  • Realized that three hours had passed, and that in that time I had written a grand total of 250 new words in this revision/rewrite
  • Did the math, and concluded that, at this rate, I’ll be done in approximately 320 days
  • Remembered that I recently sent my agent an email in which I cheerfully declared that I could have her a revised version of this book by mid-October, no problem
  • Panicked
  • Made more tea

Once the panic had faded (haha just kidding I’m super neurotic it never really fades), I started to think. Why couldn’t I focus? Why couldn’t I even stand to look at my WIP, much less work on it? Especially since, when I woke up this morning, I had been excited about the amount of time I would have to actually write today? I loved this story only hours ago, but suddenly the thought of facing it made me want to dig the deepest hole I could and bury myself alive in it.

And then I realized, all at once with a cold sort of swiftness: I knew exactly what this feeling was.

My old, familiar friend Fear.

Distracting myself with all of the things above almost made me forget about it, but in the end, it's there just the same.

A rockstar agent that loves my writing hasn’t made it disappear. Neither has a big five book deal. One incredibly smart editor drawing hearts on my manuscript later, and I still don’t sit alone at my keyboard with only my brilliant thoughts for companionship; instead, there’s a near-constant weight keeping company around my shoulders. And some days—like today—it’s still heavy enough to make me want to lay face down on my desk and just close my eyes for awhile, because I can’t stand the thought of typing another terrible word.

But now for the secret, in case you haven’t heard: I’m pretty sure we’re all scared—the published, the agented, the aspiring. All of us. Some of us more so than others, maybe. And some who would never admit to it, and that’s okay too. If fake it until you make it works for you, then go for it! But me? I’m scared every day, and I know it. Every. Single. Day. I could list all of the things I’m afraid of, but that would take entirely too long and it also wouldn’t be very helpful, so I’ll spare you. Let’s just call it a general fear of failing and leave it at that.

I’m not ashamed to tell you I’m afraid, either, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Which is why this post isn’t titled “The Secret to Getting Rid of Your Fear”. I don’t want to get rid of it. Fear is a natural, healthy reaction to things. Fear of failure drives me to succeed, and it keeps me from doing stupid things. And I’m not sure any amount of “success”—be it agent, book deal, whatever—really makes it go away, anyway. So you probably shouldn’t expect it to. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! But I used to tell myself: “this fear, this doubt in my ability will go away once I get a few full requests”, and then it became “once I get an agent”, and then “once I get a book deal”, and now it’s “once I get another bookdeal”…

Vicious, never-ending cycle, right?

Right. So cut it out. What I’m learning to do instead (although not always successfully, as today has proven, haha), is to write in spite of that fear. Most days I acknowledge it. I shake it from my shoulders so I can say hello to it, face-to-face. And then I command it to sit quietly in the corner, because I’ve got books to write and, quite frankly

And on that note, I'm off to get that serious writing done (no, really).

Stefanie Gaither writes YA novels about killer clones and spaceships, with the occasional romp with dragons and magic-users thrown in for good measure. Said writing is generally fueled by an obscene amount of coffee and chocolate, as well as the occasional tennis and/or soccer break. She's represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, and her debut novel, FALLS THE SHADOW, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster Books For Young Readers in 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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6 secret replies:

  1. glad to know i'm not alone in that department. getting an agent and that lucrative deal isn't a cure all for what we experience as writers, but using the fear as motivation is a great way to strengthen our work.

    1. You're definitely not alone! And agreed; fear can be a fantastic motivator.

  2. I'm scared just about every day. You're right. Who has time for that? Lol! Thanks for this post. If it's not going away, I might as well write anyway. I'm still learning how to turn it into fuel, but I finally did some editing tonight after freaking out about my story for the last several days. Always fun and productive. I hate that other people are in the fear club, but at least there's company. :)

    1. Lots of good company. And we have wine. And chocolate ;)

  3. Great post, Stefanie, and congratulations on your upcoming debut!

    I totally relate and am glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with this constricting fear. I laughed at the beginning because it sounds exactly how many of my days start out. Heck, some days, I'd be glad to get even 250 words. I like the idea of owning up to the fear, facing it and then asking it to take a seat in the corner. I'm going to try that! ~ Gisele :)

    1. It's how the majority of my writing days start out, too :) I figure as long as we eventually move past that, it's nothing beat ourselves up about.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!