feel the fear

Filed under: crows, writing

On Saturday I had a whale of a time at Kingston University, giving my “Writing Sex Scenes” workshop to people doing MAs in creative writing and publishing. It was an absolutely brilliant group, sparky and intelligent and in all ways a joy to work with.

Anyway, one of the pieces of advice I gave to the participants is “You can’t write from a position of fear. You will make too-conservative choices, you’ll self-edit to death, you won’t give the work everything it deserves.”

I do truly believe that advice. And I do try to follow it.

So, with that in mind, let me clarify my previous post. I think it came out a little whiney, a little bit “Oh no, my career is going well and I can’t handle it!” A little bit like something I’d want to kick myself around in a gutter for awhile for writing.

The truth is, I’ve been having some trouble with my writing process. I think that’s a very common thing. And I was trying to explore some of my reasons for my trouble. First, to give myself a handle on how to overcome my fears. This blog has always been a really useful place for me to articulate my thoughts about my own writing process, and I’ve always tried to be honest about it, even though PR-wise, I should probably project an image of being wonderfully confident and competent and glamorous every single minute of the day. Well, I’m not. I spend an awful lot of time wandering around in porridge-covered sweatpants telling myself that I suck. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, and I hope it doesn’t poison your enjoyment of my fiction forever after, but it is true.

Second, I wanted share my feelings with other writers and enjoy a bit of a moan together, because really, lots of us are quite similar and sometimes it feels good to be reminded of that (I loved Cali’s post on her blog about The Godlike Neil Gaiman wallowing in crows of doubt).

Third, to pick up any useful advice anyone else might have. And there’s been some great stuff. Thank you.

If it sounded like it was also a plea for a bit of head-patting and “poor Julie”ing…well, doh! My fault. Please don’t pat my head. I’d rather you kicked my arse around in the gutter for awhile. I’m lucky. Believe me, I know it. I count my blessings every day that I’ve got the job I do, and I get to write the kind of stories I love.

Reading the comments in the post, though, did clarify some stuff for me. I mean, these people commenting on my blog (and my Facebook page too) are successful and talented and experienced writers. And they are also feeling fear. It’s so blatantly obvious to me that their fears are ill-founded. So then, therefore, my fears are…

…oh, yeah. Ahem.

The thing I wanted to get across, and I’m not sure if I did, is that there’s a pattern to these things. There are reasons for doubt. Sometimes they are even very positive reasons. And that as a writer, your job is to identify them, deal with them, and overcome them in any way that works for you.

And then do the best job you can, and let the work speak for itself.

Tomorrow I really will blog about some of the lessons I’ve learned about storytelling, from my recent difficulties.

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  1. I read your post from yesterday and you do of course realize you are SO not alone. Have ventured into this territory myself a little lately. And you do have to write through the fear. It is the only way to come out the other side.

    If the last one (number 12) gave you problems, then it’s not surprising a little of that has leaked forward into this one. A few books ago I was in a real mess, and when I started the next it felt good to get back to something familiar. Even so, the crisis of confidence – even though I had learned that I CAN pull it out of the fire – still had an impact and that book had its challenges as well.

    But I did learn a lot.

    And the one after the one after the bad one was a pleasure to write.

    We all get the fear and insecurity that blends with the desire to tell the best story you possibly can. When “I suck” wars with the pressure to deliver…well, it’s no wonder we turn to wine and chocolate. And friends.

  2. Personally I’ve found it HUGELY helpful to read about other authors struggles with their novels. As writers we live in our heads so much it’s tempting to think we’re the only ones who feel the way we do about our work. The Neil Gaiman quote I put on my blog was a real godsend – the revelation that someone that prolific and talented could get 75% of the way through a draft and think it was rubbish was enormously reassuring!

  3. I think the fear can be useful… sometimes. It stops you getting complacent and lazy.

    At least that’s the theory. All too often, the fear makes me want to give up writing and go work in a bun shop.

  4. I liked people who are real and honest and so I liked yesterday’s post. Authors who are perfect would be boring wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you rather read about their quirks and compulsions? I know I do 🙂 Sometimes I think I’d like to go work in a bun shop with Kate.

  5. Donna, you’re always so reassuring and you know whereof you speak. Thank you for your post here and your shoulder to lean on elsewhere. 🙂

    Cali, I’ve found it helpful too, to read about others’ doubts. It puts mine in perspective. I’ve just had an email from a very accomplished author (who hasn’t commented on this blog) saying she’s struggled too, and that the struggle is actually a good sign that you’re challenging your comfort zones.

    Kate! Don’t go work in a bun shop! Or if you do, make it a quirky fun sexy bun shop and write all about it!!

    Thanks Lacey, you’re right; I’d rather read about struggles and honesty too. That doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be kicked though. 😉

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