Miss Kowalik had curly salt-and-pepper hair that was beautiful to my eight-year-old eyes. She gave us half-sheets of blue-lined paper, that kind that shredded under the slightest pressure from a pink eraser, and told us to write a paragraph just describing something using the five senses. “Don’t exaggerate, just describe,” she instructed. My first creative writing assignment.
I put my pencil to the paper and entered the Zone. I loved it.
And I also loved the praise I got for my writing. I was the shortest kid in class, the perpetual “new kid” because we moved so often, and my mom made me wear little flowered dresses every single day of school. It was a relief to have something I could do that made me stand out in a good way.
All the way through college, I wrote frequently and I wrote recklessly, tossing words onto the page and leaving no corner of my life secret to anyone who happened to read my writing. I felt nervous, sure, but I also felt courageous and capable. The zone was always there for me, and I always loved being there.
In the years since college, the nervousness has achieved more of a foothold, and I rarely feel courageous and capable about anything anymore. I held onto a writing community for a while, but moving and motherhood provided convenient excuses to let the fear get the upper hand. For a long time, I stopped writing except for my journals and our annual Christmas newsletter.
Then I started blogging. Blogging didn’t involve much fear for me because it didn’t mean much to me. I was just talking, and I didn’t care much whether people were reading or not. It actually feels comforting that I’m small potatoes. I like my solid following of thoughtful readers. According to Gertrude Stein, Picasso once said of young artists, “even after everybody knows they are good not any more people really like them than they did when only a few knew they were good.” I’d like to be good, but fame doesn’t necessarily mean the writing’s any good.
But blogging doesn’t give me that Zen-like calm that writing’s always given me, and blogging—or at least the way I’ve been blogging—isn’t really helping me to improve my writing, either.
So, I decided that I was going to get serious about my writing. I would take it to the next level. No time like the present. I’m not getting any younger. Go big or go home. Fish or cut bait. I recited to myself all kinds of motivating slogans.
And then I froze.
Writers talk about the paralysis they feel when faced with a blank page/screen. I’m familiar with that terror, but this wasn’t it. This was a fear of trying, not because trying is inherently scary but because trying makes failing hurt worse, and failing is always scary, even when it’s for the best.
While I was just kind of “La, la! I’m blogging about today’s lunch!” it didn’t really matter whether my writing was good or not. But here I was thinking about really, truly trying, putting my neck out there and saying, “Here, World! Here’s the best I’ve got!” and waiting for the World’s reaction. Bad reviews would be bad, but the most likely reaction would be silence, and that might well be worse. As Oscar Wilde writes in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
In the week since I froze, I’ve thought up a plan to help me to write more, write better, and to support me through the scary bits:
I’m good at writing lots of posts, but that involves lots of writing and very little editing. In order to do my best writing, I need to edit. So, I plan to publish a lot more selectively and put more time into each post.
2. Embrace prompts.
When I feel scared about writing, prompts help me get back in the zone. The two I’m planning to employ for blogging are the now-monthly Remember the Time Blog Hop and WordPress’s always-weekly Weekly Writing Challenge. I won’t always publish the posts I write from those prompts because I don’t want to encourage my habit of just posting to have something to post whether it’s my best work or not, but I do plan on playing around with the prompts and if something good comes out of it, I’ll put it here. I’ve also got a shelf and a half devoted to books about writing. There are plenty of prompts there to keep me busy in my non-blog writing, too.
3. Be judged.
I’ll be looking for writing communities, both online and off, so I can get used to writing my best stuff and requesting feedback, which I’ve not done for quite a long time. I’m not ready to make a plan for submitting my writing for publication in literary journals, but this is a baby step in that direction.
4. Find a writing mentor.
I’ve always loved singing, but I’ve also always been terrified of singing in front of people, so when I joined our church choir last year, I also made the leap and started taking voice lessons. Now I’m still terrified of singing but I’ve got a professional helping me along. Christina gives me challenges tailored to my voice. She gives me labeled praise and constructive criticism, most of which I think is gentle, but it’s hard to tell because really, even the gentlest criticism stings a little. But I don’t mind the sting because I can see my progress, and that’s enough encouragement to keep me working.
I want the same thing for my writing. I want someone who will listen to my writing voice, identify my strengths and weaknesses, and help me figure out how to make it better. I want specific, personal suggestions from someone who knows about writing and knows about all of the emotional blah that goes along with writing. I’m on the lookout.
Do you ever frighten yourself out of doing things that you love to do? How do you work through the fear?