The Nature of Fear

Last month, I blogged about my fear of writing and how some of Carrie Fisher’s wisdom has helped me learn to work despite it.

This has prompted me to delve further and find out what it is that actually paralyses my creativity.

What do I fear?

My fear is an adaptable little mite, nibbling away at different angsts, depending upon the point at which I am in my career.

When I first started writing, I was petrified of garden variety rejection. I imagine this is standard fare for newbie writers.

But I’ve long since moved on from there, having matured enough in my creativity to know that I can produce quality work.

I later grew to be scared of never making a name for myself, of being a nobody in the industry.

But I’ve since accepted that I, as with most writers, will never become a household name — if I’m lucky, one or two editors may occasionally seek out my work.

I’ve also endured a period where I feared imperfection in my writing, where I edited the life out of my stories in striving for that perfect sentence.

And so forth, ad infinitum.

I guess it all comes down to a fear of failure.

It’s my definition of failure that changes.

How do I define failure?

Failure, for me, is a dynamic beast as well, ebbing and flowing with the tide of my career.

Back when I began (thirty-odd years ago) — back when the fear of rejection practically consumed every moment I touched pen to paper — I defined failure as people hating my work.

In moving beyond that, I’ve learned (intellectually, at least) that relying on others to validate my work will cripple both my career and my art.

There are all manner of popular or award winning stories which I don’t care for. The same, I assume, will always be true of my work. I simply cannot appeal to everyone’s tastes.

Failure to find a publisher was a strong fear motivator at one point — I’ve drawers and hard drives full of mouldering manuscripts to prove it.

But of course indie publishing put an end to that. (Or, at least, using that as an excuse.)

And no list of failures is complete without mentioning money, or the failure to procure it in vast amounts on the strength of my art alone.

I even took a number of ghostwriting jobs out of the misguided idea that I had no other choice if I was to succeed as a writer — financial success being the only measure I could see at the time.

I guess the common thread here is a failure to achieve whatever my current goal is.

What Are My Goals?

Let’s see…

A multi million-dollar book deal. An internationally acclaimed and awarded best-seller. A fan base that puts the cast of a Cecil B DeMille epic to shame. (Not much then.)

These were the heady dreams of a young school boy who’d been led to believe he had a modicum of talent when it came to writing.

Now in a more sober decade of life, my aspirations are somewhat tempered by the realities of the industry and the measure of my abilities.

(Though the teenager still rears his head occasionally.)

Finishing a short story and seeing it through to publication. Completing a zeroth draft of a novel. Blogging and newslettering regularly (you know, for the fans). Shrugging off my imposter syndrome shroud and forcing myself to engage with my peers at a conference every once in a while.

Right now, I have a bottleneck of short stories, completed to zeroth draft, that require editing and releasing into the world.

My goal is to break into an international short story market — one of my top three would be brilliant (there’s that dreamer again!).

And, intellectually, I know how to achieve this: time spent multiplied by effort input.

But, by the gods, it consumes vast swathes of my life at times.

And that is time I could spend doing other things — not the least of which is spending time with those closest to me.

Staying Afraid, It Is Then

Maybe that, then, is what I fear most — not just failure to achieve my current goal, but failure to do so at the expense of others in my life.

(Wow, leaden feeling in my stomach moment!)

I do try to find the right balance of home, work and writing. But scales can slide akilter from time to time.

And it’s usually when they do that I am at my most fractious.

So, the only way forward from here is to either ditch the writing gig altogether or make every moment I spend immersed in it — and away from the ones I love — count.

Even after all this time, each goal is a hard slog, but I have make it. The cost of failure is too high.

Stay afraid, but do it anyway, Ms Fisher said.

Staying afraid is something I’m good at.

(I promise a break from introspection next month.)

All images from Pixabay

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