I’ve been reading a book on how fear affects writing (and art-making of all kinds). Fear is what holds many (even most) of us back from being the writers we dream of being–and probably could be.
Art & Fear suggests that these fears fall into two main categories: (1) fears about yourself, and (2) fears of how others will receive your work.
The fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work. Fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.
The Great Pretender (or fears about self)
When you doubt your own abilities, you feel like a fake, an impostor. You feel like your best work was an accident, a happy fluke that you can’t seem to duplicate. It feels as if you’re going through the motions of being a writer–typing, reading how-to books and magazines, attending conferences–but you suspect that you don’t really know what you’re doing. (And we wrongly assume that all those other writers DO know what they’re doing.)
You also suspect you don’t have any real talent. After all, talented people perform their art with ease. Writers might start out that way, but inevitably you reach a point (if you’re truly working) where it definitely is NOT easy! You take that as a sign that you don’t really have enough talent to be a writer after all. (Truth: talent is a gift, and most people have enough talent. Probably 95% of success is what you do with it–and for writers, that means showing up at the page consistently.)
These fears WILL keep you from doing your best work.
Whose Priorities Count? (or fears about others)
The best writing is not produced by committee. It’s produced when a writer who is passionate about an idea is left alone to create. At these times we aren’t even thinking about others.
Problems arise when we confuse others’ priorities with our own. In our heads, we hear these critical voices. (Some come from our pasts, some from current writing friends, some from what we read in magazines and publishing journals.) Since published writers depend on reviews for sales, what others think has to matter at some point. However, when others’ opinions–how they think we should write–influences you too much and too soon in the process, you stop writing what you truly love and start writing what “they” have said is better or more salable.
Wanting to be understood is a basic need, and writers want others to understand their stories. They don’t want to be booed off the stage for being too different. (We all learned at an early age the dangers of being considered different or weird.) So the inner war continues with writers: can I find the courage to be true to what I need to write, or will I buckle to others’ opinions so I have a better chance of being received well? Buckling to fears of being misunderstood makes you dependent on your readers or audience.
These fears WILL keep you from doing your own work.
This coming week, when you’re out scooping snow or taking a walk, give these two questions some thought:
What fears do you have about yourself that prevent you from doing your BEST work?
What fears about your reception by others prevents you from doing your OWN work?
And if you’re REALLY brave, leave a comment about one (or both). It will give me ideas for future topics!