A writer’s fears redux

This week at Silk And Shadows, we were discussing the fears writers suffer.  I dashed off a rather blithe response about my fear of being eaten by a bear and wanted to go into a little more depth here. 

Because in retrospect, I should amend that fear to a fear of being eaten by a worm. 


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death
that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me
and through me.
And when it has gone past 
I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone
there will be nothing.

Only I will remain.*

Well, who hasn’t feared being swallowed by a giant saber-toothed worm?  I loved this quote when I first read it in Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction adventure Dune because I think it captures a truth about fear: That you can’t just not be afraid.  You have to live through it and let it go.

Fear is adaptive, after all.  If we fear being eaten by bears, fear handily keeps us from going into the forest where hungry bears live.  But if we follow my Silk And Shadows analogy that the bear is the creative process, then staying out of the forest might keep us living but prevents us from discovering adventures and treasures and hawt sleeping Princes along the way.

I’ve read that professional fears fall into three categories. In a writer’s case, these categories conveniently follow the oft-times rocky (and by “rocky,”I mean “Denali-on-Annapurna-on-K2” not Balboa-victory-dancing-on-the-stairs) path to publication:*Geek attack!  Paramount Pictures is allegedly developing a new Dune!  IMO, Dune hasn’t yet been “done” properly.  I loved the adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, so I know massive books can be done and done well.  We can totally thumb wrestle over who would make the sexiest, moodiest Paul Atreides.

Fear of failure

Fear of rejection

Fear of success

Because I am currently paralyzed by the thought of undertaking revisions on Book 2, let’s examine my fears in greater detail intead.

1. Fear of failure:

“I need to read one more craft book to understand some obscure element of scene structure.” “I can’t find time to write because of the job/kids/dirty toilet.” These are some of the reasons I’ve used heard explaining why a story isn’t getting written. You can always tell when something is an excuse instead of an explanation if the next thing out of my the person’s mouth is a recap of the fascinating television I’ve they’ve been watching. At the heart of these excuses, I think, lies a fear of failure.

Failure sucks because… Wait, do I really have to explain this?  Failure sucks because.  That’s probably enough for most of us, right?  They say you’re not supposed to wrap your self-identity up in such ephemera as jobs and kids and — presumably — books, but really, if I’m not a writer, what am I?

And if I’m not a good writer, what good am I?

As emotionally unhealthy as that sounds, I think the fear of failure is legitimately useful if its energy drives us to hone our skills and focus our determination.

 2. Fear of rejection:

Oh boy, do I fear rejection.  You finally get over your fear of failure and finish the damn book just so people can start telling you no.  I heard no a lot.  I heard that writers can expect to hear intermittent no’s for the rest of their lives.

And you know what no spells backwards?  That’s right — ON.  So you go on despite the fear of rejection.

Wow, I think that was profound.  Let me emphasize that:

No spelled backwards is ON.

Actually, does it even count as a fear if it’s right up on top of you?  The definition of fear is the anticipation of danger, and pretty much rejection in the writing life is right here, right now, right always and forever.

3. Fear of success

This one is harder for me to understand.  To suffer through failure and rejection just to stop because you finally have a chance?  I’ve read that the fear of success is basically the fear of change. 

But I’ve got a fix for that fear.  See, if you do finish the damn book — thus overcoming the fear of failure — and then send it out — thus overcoming the fear of rejection — and then you get a yes on that query, next you’ll send the complete — overcoming the fear of success to finally sell that book…  Just to face the fear of failure again.

See?  No need to fear change, because the fears don’t change at all.

Ooh, gotta go.  My favorite show is on.



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