fear and creativity

I have to tell you a secret:

Writing scares the shit out of me.

Unfortunately (maybe?), it's also something I love dearly, and is The Thing I want to do with my life. It's also my most proficient skill.

I first began to realize that writing scares me about ten years ago. Sessions of penning fiction at my computer would trigger the eating disordered behavior I was fighting at the time, sending me into a binge or a frenzy of over-exercising and food restriction.

November was the worst time of the year for me, because I would participate in National Novel Writing Month. I'd enter the month with so much excitement, but by the time NaNoWriMo had finished, I'd find my mental health compromised.

I eventually quit writing.

It wasn't worth it, I reasoned. Once I'd come to the understanding of how writing triggered me, I didn't see how I could continue doing it, when it seemed to be harming me.

So I quit.

But I missed it. Words meant (and mean) so much to me. They were my first love. I wanted them.

I wrote poetry. That was easier. I could create them in short bursts, and I didn't have to sustain mentally in the way that a novel-length project requires. I fell (back) in love with writing.

I'd found a way to write without feeling like I was hurting myself.

And yet . . . I still missed writing fiction. Every time I picked up a fiction book, I burned to write my own stories again.

I decided to experiment.

I told myself I would write a romance novel. My previous novels had been rather dark and emotional. Why not try writing something lighter that had to end with a happily ever after?

I tried it.

I did it.

THE LIGHT BETWEEN US was the result.

My mental health seemed to slip a bit . . . but certainly not as much as before. After all, at that point I had years' more therapy under my belt, as well as a prescription anti-depressant in my aresenal.

More than that, I had developed a greater self-awareness. That helped a lot.

I was so proud of myself. I'd done it. Pressed through and realized my dream.

I published THE LIGHT BETWEEN US. I made a lot of mistakes. But still, readers seemed to like it. I was thrilled.

I wanted to write more.

It took me over three years to write and publish my next book and sequel to my first, FINDING ME AND YOU. So . . . what the hell happened, right?

The fact is that, even though I have grown so much as a person, writing fiction still scares me. There is something about creating stories that, while they are largely happy, require me to dig into my depths to produce.

There is darkness in my depths. There is abuse and loss and whispered lies from my childhood that became my inner voice.

My insides love to lie to me.

I suspect this is the same for every creator to some degree, no matter what demons hide inside. After all, that's why we have books like The War of Art and Big Magic (subtitle: Creative Living Beyond Fear), right?

Making shit is scary.

Making shit that you hope is good and then releasing it into the world is even scarier.

And there is so much that is unknown, especially at the beginning. Sure, the first 5,000 words of any project usually is pure fun for me . . . but it also feels like jumping off a cliff without knowing if you're wearing a parachute. You don't know if you'll be able to create the book you envision, and if you do, if people will like it or buy it or if your mom will read it and be mortified by that sexy scene or or or or.

Writing -- creating -- is an act of faith.

I'm not very good at believing these days. I've never been good at believing in myself.

However, I am making peace more and more with the fact that the interplay of fear and faith is an inevitable part of the creation process.

That's not easy.

But it's part of the gig. For me, anyway. Maybe for you, too?

To get through, I make sure to support myself in specific ways:

1. Try to Nail the Basics

Writing is hard work. It takes a toll on the body as well as the mind. So when I'm cranking out a novel-length project, I try to nail the basics of self-care: getting enough water, nutrition, movement, recreation, and sleep (this one is extra important!). You can't draw from an empty well, and that statement is only cliché because it's so true.

2. Work at a Sustainably Pace

Writing books at breakneck speed is becoming more and more trendy. From NaNoWriMo to how-to books teaching how to write a full-length book in a week, speed is the name of the game, especially for indie authors. And for good reason -- the more books you produce, the more you can ride momentum to success. You keep your name fresh in readers' minds, which is fantastic. And obviously, more books means more earning potential.

However, just because it's fashionable, logical, or smart business doesn't mean that you have to write fast. I imagine that quickly penned books are going to require more editing anyway. And speed is certainly not worth it if it breaks you and burns you out.

So write sustainably. Pick a daily word count goal and stick with it. Personally, I find that 2,000 words a day is the most I can write on a daily basis without burning out in the course of writing a single book.

3. Take Inspiration Breaks

We all know the advice -- fill your creative well. Well, do it! While trips to your local museum or that walk along the river might seem frivolous, they are essential to the creativity process. Take in beauty to turn out beauty.

For me, while I am creatively fed by museums, theater, and musical performances, the form of nourishment that is most accessible and essential to me are books. To write fiction, I must read fiction. And I don't read only fiction, but I have to make sure that I consume fiction regularly to support my own writings.

4. Learn

For me, a lot of the fear in the creative process is fear of the unknown. While I can't do much about that, I can mitigate it by developing myself professionally. I try to make sure that I keep learning and growing as a writer by trying new techniques and reading craft books. I'm currently reading Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing by Helen Cixous.

This can also help you learn more about your fear. Don't be scared of exploring your fear, becoming more aware of it. Self-knowledge is only an asset. Finding out what you're afraid of and why is a way to turn your fear into strength.

5. Find Community

Finally, surround yourself with supportive community. They don't have to be writers, but it's a definite bonus if they're creative and/or entrepreneurial and/or ambitious in some way. Not only will they be great sounding boards, but their risks and breakthroughs and successes will inspire your own (and yours them). Don't go it alone. Find your people, online or in person, and form a creative cadre.

Fear in writing is normal. Fear in writing is part of the process. It sucks, but that's the gig. The prize waiting on the other side of the fear, however, is more than worth exploring your fear's genesis and enduring its discomfort.

How do you press through and into your fear? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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