Thinking about Fear

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I’ve been thinking about fear recently. There’s always fear involved when you’re attempting to do something new, and writing a book is always something new, something that is at least a little fearsome. You’re afraid that once you write the book, people won’t like it, or won’t buy it, or will buy it but won’t like it afterward, or any of the various combinations of things that can make you wonder why in the world you bothered writing a book in the first place. Rather than, you know, watching television and eating chocolate.

(Yesterday, I had dinner with friends who are writers, and one of them said to me, you never learn how to write a story. You learn how to write that story, that book. You have to learn all over again how to write the next one. So the experience is always different, always new.)

I should point out here that despite my fears, The Thorn and the Blossom is doing so much better than I could ever have anticipated. Some people will like it, some people won’t, and that’s always the way things are. But it’s selling!

Today, I saw three things other people had said about fear. The first one is something I see every day, because it’s tacked to the bulletin board above my desk. I originally took it from Terri Windling’s blog:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid”?

It’s on a post-it note, but I should probably have it typed up, or even tattooed on me somewhere, because it’s quickly becoming my motto. I ask myself that question often: what would I do in this situation if I weren’t afraid? There are several projects I’m working on at the moment. One is a poetry collection, which I think I’ve mentioned, and that’s attended with all the fears one always has about a book: what if no one likes it? What if my poetry is terrible? And there’s a secret project of sorts that will accompany the poetry collection, which I’ll tell you about soon. And then there’s a super secret project that I’m just starting to work on, and that one I really had to think about. But I thought, what would I do if I weren’t afraid? And the answer was, I would do it. So there.

The second thing I saw today came from Twitter:

“A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom.” – Aung San Suu Kyi

Yup. Especially common sense. We think it doesn’t make sense to do something, or do it in a particular way, and so we don’t do it. Well, common sense is just shorthand for what other people would say. And what do you care about what other people would say? You are you, you have your vision, and you have to follow it. Despite common sense. You have to do it sensibly, in that you need to make sure you can eat and have a roof over your head while you’re following that dream. But there’s also such a thing as uncommon sense. Your uncommon sense is that small voice inside you that tells you which way to go. If you don’t think you have one, that’s because you haven’t been listening to it. Listen, and it will be telling you all the time where you should go next.

And then, I saw this on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog, in a post called “Things I Know?“:

“Fear and taking the short-term view will harm not just your career but your creativity. Conversely, taking chances while keeping the long-term in mind will often reward you. But the important thing here is beating the fear. Even writing itself is often about beating the fear – evading the fear that comes with the editorial mind-set, which can rob you of the confidence to write. In the broader sense, it’s fear that makes us not push outside of our comfort zones. It’s fear that tells us we’re not worthy of an opportunity. It’s fear that tells us this new thing isn’t something we can actually accomplish. Jumping in with both feet while being aware of the long-term effects of what you’re doing is so important. Saying yes is so important. As important? Don’t fall into patterns of paranoia and bitterness. Something is always going to go wrong in your career. There’s no getting around that. You can lose yourself in circles of why that turn your world into a place where you only see the negative. This just feeds the fear more, and gives you more excuses to not do something.”

I can’t add anything to that – it says what it needs to so perfectly. Oh, and that question about why I bother to write books in the first place? It’s because I look at the world around me, and there are things about it I don’t like. And so I want to change it. Changing the world: that’s why I do what I do. Despite the fear, following my uncommon sense.

(Do you think we’d still be talking about Joan of Arc if she hadn’t followed her uncommon sense?)

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6 Responses to Thinking about Fear

  1. Robert Thau says:

    For what it’s worth “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” is all over the walls at Facebook’s offices, along with “Done is better than perfect”, in which I sense a faint echo of Heinlen’s rules for writers.

    (Another one: “Move fast and break stuff. If you’re not breaking things, you are not moving fast enough.” So, if something on Facebook seems broken… now you know why.)

  2. Jon Awbrey says:

    Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

    — Friedrich Schiller • Die Jungfrau von Orleans

  3. Jon Awbrey says:

    When Bilbo opened his eyes, he wondered if he had; for it was just as dark as with them shut. No one was anywhere him. Just imagine his fright! He could hear nothing, see nothing, and he could feel nothing except the stone of the floor.
        Very slowly he got up and groped about on all fours, till he touched the wall of the tunnel; but neither up nor down it could he find anything: nothing at all, no sign of goblins, no sign of dwarves. His head was swimming, and he was far from certain even of the direction they had been going in when he had his fall. He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it.

    — Tolkien • The Hobbit

  4. Adam says:

    Great post. Fear drives (or at least hangs slouchingly about) every decision we make. Taking Frost’s “road less traveled” (to choose the most convenient cliche) often means striking out into the wilderness on your own, and never knowing if you’ll reach your destination or be devoured by wolves. Or, for that matter, if there is really any “destination” at all. “What big teeth you have, Grandmother.”

    This is relevant in just about any aspect of life, but more so (I think) in anything necessarily solitary, such as writing. In most other professions you have the constant feedback of your colleagues, the support of a system, the reassurance that a check waits at the end of each pay period. In anything solitary, you have only the belief that what you’re doing has value to someone other than yourself. Until, of course, you pull back the curtain and reveal it to the world, and wait for the applause…or the rotten fruit.

  5. Lisa says:

    Inspiring post – thank you for sharing it.

    What would you do if you were not afraid is now on the wall, where I look when I look away from the laptop.

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