Page Fright

Tomorrow I begin my very first ROW80 writing challenge.

I am terrified.

I’m not “horror film, hysterical screaming” terrified. I’m “trying to find a logical reason not to do the challenge” terrified.

I’m not afraid to write. I write a lot. I write long blog posts, I write long e-mails, I write long journal entries. I’m even a last-remaining member of that rare breed who writes actual sent-through-the-postal-service letters to friends and family. What I am afraid of is what’s on the page and its reception in the wider world.

Part of the fear is that people won’t connect with my writing. They’ll finish reading—or, worse, just start reading—and say “meh,” and continue on with their lives unchanged. I can accept this possibility. I’ve not written a story or an extended personal essay in ten years. It’s quite possible that I’ll need a good deal of practice to get my internal writing apparatus into good working order. “Meh” writing is frustrating, but I can cure it through deliberate practice, writing more, seeking feedback, and reading effective writing by others with an eye for effective techniques I might incorporate into my own writing.

If it were just a matter of setting my mind to it and carpet-bombing the publishing industry with my written words, I think I could handle that. What worries me more is the fear that rejection of my writing equates to a rejection of me. If someone says, “This story is pedestrian, cliched, idiotic pap,” I fear that translates to, “CJ is an ignorant loser who is an idiot for even trying to write.” If someone says, “This story is mundane and utterly inconsequential,” I fear that’s not just true of the words I’ve written but of me as a person.

And I fully realize that even this fear is cliched. Mundane. Even inconsequential. (I’m not even original in my anxieties, says that nasty voice in my head.)

My ROW80 challenge this round doesn’t sound terrifically ambitious. I plan to use the book The Pen and the Bell by Holly Hughes and Brenda Miller. I’ll write and meditate each day (aiming for five days a week, but seven would be fine, too), focusing on the exercises and reflections in one chapter a week. My goal is to neutralize some of the scariness of writing by establishing a writing routine and recapturing some of the playfulness I used to feel around writing.

The key, I think, will be finding a way to face the reality that not all of my writing is going to be any good as well as the reality that not everyone is going to like me. It’s true whether I write or not, so I might as well write.

Still. I’m scared.

Tomorrow it begins.

15 Replies to “Page Fright”

  1. CJ –

    You expressed yourself with eloquence and honesty, up there.

    I am going to go against the grain and offer a different. I suggest that, instead of trying to overcome your anxieties, you go further into them – in writing, and not.

    Why are you so frightened and anxious of what others will think of your words? Is it that you give their opinions more weight than your own? If so, why?

    I did that for a very long time. I needed praise – and only praise – to feel worthy as a writer and as a person. Once I allowed myself to go into the feelings, I realized that they stemmed from a childhood that was rich in ridicule and expectations I could not meet, and impoverished in genuine, non-manipulative compliments and positive regard.

    It took some time, and a lot of effort, but i finally realized that all the craft in the world cannot make my writing real. Only i can, and only be sharing my own truths, in my own voice.

    If you can just write what is within you, honestly, and find the courage to share it, there will be those who value it. You have lived a life not exactly like anyone else. YOU are not just like anyone else.

    I am certain you have things to share that no one else can – wonderful things, tragic things, sweet things, silly things.

    It may just be me, but “writing routine” and “playfulness” don’t fit well together in my mind. “Writing routine” feels like work, not play. It feels like a requirement, something to get done so that it can be checked off the list.

    For me, play needs to be open-ended, lingering, sparkling,and undefined. I come to the blank page or screen, and think, “Oh, boy! i wonder what will happen next?!” And then, I set my mind free…

    The best writing I have ever done, the stuff that seems to most touch people, was written without preconception – and the only writing routine I have is to slip away for moments during the day, between being with my homeschooled children and hometending and the other business of life, and writing a bit. I enjoy longer stretches, a few times a week, at night, if things have settled (no guarantees of that, since we are a nocturnal bunch).

    Rather than routine, writing is my revelry and my stress release. It’s my playground.

    I like your goal. It’s simple, and clearly something you feel strongly about. Those are very good starting places.

    You have embarked upon a wonderful challenge – but the one that runs beneath it is to take this challenge and make it your own. Let it nourish you, and help you to grow.

    I began my ROW journey in January, with many of the same fears you are facing now – thinking I might fail, others might scorn my words, and other, more nebulous fears.

    It’s October, and I am a sponsor. I have published works, and I was even paid a little. I have a direction and a new confidence in my life as a writer – enough that i can claim that title without looking around for some one to be pointing at me and calling me out for my presumptiveness.

    And I have many new friends who inspire and delight. They give me things to think about and help me to strive and stretch.

    You are on the cusp of something wonderful!

    I came here as part of my sponsor duties, but I will be back as a friend, if you will have me.

    And I did not think “meh” even once while reading your lovely and honest post. =D



    1. Thank you for the welcome, shanjeniah!

      I started to reply to your comment, but it got to be post-length, so I’m going to write about routines and the origins of writing phobia in my Wednesday check-in.


  2. Hi, CJ! I’m totally with you on the fear-of-writing front. For me it’s just a subconscious thing that keeps me from ever putting words on the page, but I’m sick of it. Good luck with your goals and, like some of the other comments say, remember that you can fix any problems in rewrites. Just focus on adding and save the improving for when the first draft is finished. You can do it!


    1. The “scared” thing really gets old, doesn’t it? Thanks for the vote of confidence, jaimecallahan!


  3. Welcome aboard! One of the big positives of ROW80 is seeing your own fears and struggles play out for other writers. We’re all learning from each other all the time. And everyone is welcoming. That doesn’t mean everyone is outgoing, or that everyone is fearless. As a writer when fear tries to sway you, you just suck it up and plow on until it gets better. It gets easier. And now you have company on that long road. 🙂


  4. Well, first I had to look up ROW80. That’s so cool. Great way to get yourself in the flow. I was tempted to join you this time, but it would be insane because we’re moving this month. I’ll be so happy to watch you do it instead.
    You can totally do this!
    I understand everything you talked about here and you’re so right. There’s just no other way to be a writer or to get better than to write every day.
    I remember so clearly when I finally tried something I really wanted to do and realized that I didn’t mind if I stunk at it because I loved it enough that I’d keep trying until I got better. There was no danger of my staying bad at it because I wouldn’t give up until I got better.
    Plus, you’re a really good writer.
    Do find the fun and enjoy!!


    1. Thanks, tree! I’m hoping that the little challenge I’ve set will allow me to give myself permission to just do something I love (write) without caring about whether it’s good or not. I think about the people whose work I admire most…they’re all people who create from passion and joy. Observing their creations is like watching someone dance when they think they’re alone or hearing them sing in the middle of the wilderness; it feels like an unexpected blessing. I figure if I can get to the point where I’m writing from a place of passion and joy, “good” and “bad” won’t even figure into it. I’m guessing a lot of practice will go into that, both with pen in hand and without.


  5. You can do it! Remember, anything you write can be fixed. So just dump anything that comes out onto the page, and worry about the quality later. 🙂

    As far as rejection goes, it comes with the territory. LOL most of the form letters are worded very carefully so they aren’t personal “We are sorry, but we are unable to use this at this time.” It’s when you get higher up on the food chain that things start to get nasty (but it’s good because at least it means they actually READ your story, vs. the form rejection which could mean they didn’t even open the thing). “This point of view seems forced, but you have a strong gift for writing.” etc. After about 20 rejections, you stop caring and just send the story on to the next person on your list.

    With self publishing, you can also cut out that whole rejection process and just put things out there for readers. I’ve known people who blog their book, a chapter or two a week. The possibilities are endless, these days.

    And for right now, you don’t need to worry about submitting anything. In order to submit, you have to write first!

    Good luck!


    1. Yes, I’m definitely putting the cart before the horse. I have a feeling this is going to be as much an exercise in self-compassion as it is going to be a writing practice.

      I do have a very pleasant handwritten rejection from 2003. Perhaps I should use that as encouragement rather than the opposite.

      Thanks for the well wishes!


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