Writing is scary.
It’s true. Only writers get this. Try to explain to a normie that you haven’t finished your novel because you are afraid, and you’ll only receive a blank stare of confusion, or worse, judgement.
But why exactly is writing so terrifying? From the book, The Courage to Write:
Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all. Fiction writers are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.
It’s that word: authenticity.
And that’s the crux of it. All famous authors have said it in their own way. You must be honest. You must be real. If you aren’t, your work will suffer.
“The only writers I respect,” said Henry Miller, “are those who have put themselves completely into their work. Not those who use skillful hands to do something. This isn’t writing, in my opinion. A man who can dash off a book, let’s say, and say it’s a good novel, a best seller, even of some value, but it isn’t representative completely of him, of his personality, then there’s something wrong there. This man is a fraud in a way, to me. All he put into his book was his skill. And that’s nothing. I prefer a man who is unskillful, who is an awkward writer, but who has something to say, who is dealing himself one time on every page.”
So many of us are afraid we aren’t good enough, skilled enough. So we obsess over rules and how-to’s and paralyze ourselves with the rigidity of doing it right. Often this is only a tactic our fear uses to distract us from writing the deep, scary, truth.
There is a woman in my writing group who desperately wants to be a better writer. When she shares her stories, they inevitably fall flat. She’s good with grammar, plot structure, and description. But there is something missing: truth. There’s no honesty in her stories. There is no risk.
The risk is what rivets readers.
They sense that not only are these characters in some sort of danger (physical, psychological, or otherwise) but the author is, too. Readers want to see the truth laid bare in all it’s humiliating glory. Why? Because it resonates as truth. And that makes them feel connected. It makes them feel better about their own truth. It makes them feel they are not alone.
This type of writing takes guts. There’s no magic cure for writing fear (though I’ll be focusing on how to face it for the rest of September.) As a successful writer, self-exposure is not just an occupational hazard. It’s a requirement. Make peace with this fact as best you can.
Remember that fear is your guide, not your enemy.
“When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, “you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”
When you feel the fear, celebrate it instead of cursing it. Instead of running away. Be glad you feel it. It means you are doing something more important than following rules: you’re writing with authenticity.
And that’s a good thing. All those famous authors can’t be wrong.