Writing On The Edge. How Courageous Writers Make Successful Writers.

Fear is your guide, not your enemy.

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.


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  1. says

    I love that quote by Henry Miller. It takes something that is feared by many into something that is honourable.
    I also love what you say here ” It means you are doing something more important than following rules: you’re writing with authenticity.”

  2. Emily says

    I love this article, I am personally against the how to write tips. It’s like trying to add restrictions to art. Writing should be an expression of the heart and soul, not the rules

  3. says

    I love this article. Being an avid pinner, I come across so many “How to be a bestseller author” pins every day, and lately they’ve been making me angrier and angrier. No one tells those aspiring authors to forget all that “how to” crap and sit down and WRITE, pour your soul onto the paper (or screen), be authentic, be real. There are no shortcuts. Thank you, in the name of all authors.
    Mariam Kobras recently posted…Sunset Bay, Introduced.My Profile

    • says

      Thank you for your kind comment, Mariam! I get frustrated with all of the shortcut advice as well. But I just went to your blog and I have to say, you are very prolific! Good for you! Maybe you can give me some tips! 🙂

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