Friday, September 17, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Embracing The Fear

Welcome to another Happy Writers Society meeting! Please, take a seat. Get comfy. Don't fight over the brownie tray—there's plenty for everyone.

A small matter of business before my pep talk: Dayana Stockdale, a member of the society, has interviewed me about HWS and added her own thoughts on the importance of being a happy writer. It's good stuff. Be sure to check it out.

Courage isn't the absence of fear; it's moving forward despite the fear.

I think we've all heard that saying in one form or another, and I'm sure we all agree, too. But it deserves repeating.

In any creative endeavor, there's this element of fear. You're basically taking your thoughts and emotions and putting them on display for the world to see. That's a scary thing! For many reasons. I won't bother naming all them, even.

Today I want to talk about fear of our own ideas in particular. Maybe you've had an idea like that—the one that you know is amazing and yet at the same time you feel like you don't have the ability to portray it.

As an artist, I know this feeling well. There are still images in my head I know I don't have the technical ability to draw. I've had them there for years, and yet every time I try to put them on paper I fail miserably. I crumple the paper and determine that maybe I'll be able to draw it later.

I have these ideas for books too, ones I'm afraid to write because the idea is "too big" for little old me. I start writing them, and they scare the freaking crap out of me.

Transparent was one such idea. My main character is invisible. Invisible. At first I was overwhelmed by how I would portray such a girl, how I would get the reader to connect with a person who had no idea who they really were. I avoided the idea for months, terrified of how big and scary it was, but I finally got up the courage to write it.

And the first attempt was a disaster.

No. I'm not exaggerating.

My agent suggested I REWRITE it. I was devastated—the idea really was too big for me just like I thought! I'd tried to translate this awesome idea into words and it didn't measure up. The thought of rewriting it seemed impossible: I would just mess it up again.

But I did rewrite it, and it was hard. I just barely finished the six month journey! There were times I wanted to give up, where I was sure it was still a piece of crap.

This last read changed my mind. I finished this morning and realized that, though it might not be perfect yet, it IS good. It is closer to the perfect idea in my head. I've translated it better and I'm so, so proud of that!

And I've learned something along the way—that Fear is a good thing.

The Fear tells you you're pushing yourself, that you're growing as an artist. It tells you that you're not playing it safe, and an artist can't play safe if they want to make an impact. I realized I never want to get comfortable, because comfortable means I'm not growing and improving anymore. It means I'm being lazy.

So when I get those chills, when I feel that Fear creeping into my heart, now I will smile. Because I know it means I'm going the right direction.


  1. I loved this post & I completely agree. I wrote a blog post about having no fear last night! Great minds, yeah? ;-)
    I think that when we allow fear to control us we grow complacent, we stagnate, and every aspect of our life suffers from it.
    Thanks for the post!

  2. Oh this is a wonderful post today! I've been experiencing that fear lately over my latest project - it's big and scary and could be SO GOOD if I don't screw it all up. And I'm afraid that I'm going to screw it up beyond belief. But I'm still going to try. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Do you know how proud you make us all when you do something so fantastic and courageous, like rewriting an entire book? Well done!! This was a wonderful post, Natalie - thanks!

  4. I mean to write a verse novel about a Gitano (Spanish gypsy) girl. The whole idea terrifies me -- presenting a culture that has been marginalized for centuries in a respectful and honest way.

    I started research last winter and then switched gears to do re-writes on various pieces. I'm committing to start the research again in October.

    Hold me to it!

  5. I so agree! I have a shiny idea (not a new one -- it's been in my head for years) and I found myself freezing every time I started to think about it. I knew I was SCARED of it -- what if I couldn't do it? But I know that means that if I push through the fear, it will be GREAT. Because it is hard. And things that are worth doing should be hard. They should scare us a little. Because they challenge us to step up and do our best.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Funny, I am planning my own post on a very similar theme. Not the fear of an idea that's so good I'm afraid I'll screw it up. It's on the fear of an idea that may not get a second glance from agents.

    But I know I want to write this book.

    So I'm going to. And yes, I'm pretty scared.

  7. Great way to change our perspective of fear. Its a sign we're pushing and growing--I like that!

  8. Yes yes yes!!! Embrace the fear, the chaos the crazy .... and dude, take the jump your afraid to do most! :D It's always the best journey!

  9. This post touched my heart. I needed to read this. Thank you for writing this. It is true, there are times where an idea will come or a new twist and you have no idea if you can accomplish it, but we must try.

  10. I have always wanted to write my memoirs, but the terror keeps me away for now. Whenever I start to feel frightened writing fiction, I only have to think of my unwritten memoir and the fiction seems much less scary.

  11. Oh I have an idea that I am excited and scared of to start when I am finished my current WIP . . . and the fear has been slightly more overwhelming. While this article is already applicable with various scenes in my current project, I am bookmarking this puppy to read when I start my next one. Thanks for the encouragement! :-)

  12. Thank you so much for this post. Over the past several months I have struggled a lot with fear in my writing, taking various forms. Most often it takes the form of, "I have to put off writing this chapter another day, because if I do it now I'll mess it up," but the other day I made the decision to, once again, delay writing a story I've been wanting to write for a long time, simply because I was afraid of failure. Now I'm rethinking that decision. I don't want to cave to fear! Thank you so much for sharing this bit of courage.

  13. Fear is the gust that lifts your skirt and exposes your knickers before the elastic in both perishes away.

  14. "And I've learned something along the way—that Fear is a good thing.

    The Fear tells you you're pushing yourself, that you're growing as an artist. It tells you that you're not playing it safe, and an artist can't play safe if they want to make an impact."

    So, so true. You just made me feel a little bit better about how Afraid I am of my new book. (But it WILL be awesome!) Thank you. :)

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  16. Definitely. Even though I know this, sometimes it's really hard to just move through the fear.

    I wonder how many first drafts never get written just for this reason.

  17. Bravo, Natalie! I'm just starting a revision and I'm feeling a bit wimpy about it. Thank you for this post - it's helping me light that fire!


  18. Thank you for this post. I just happened upon your blog through the linking domino effect and was curious about the "Happy Writers Society" tab.

    Sometimes I feel like I might be defective in some way because I have all of these sweeping, creative ideas in my head but can only seem to get them out in small portions -if at all. Their scope scares me and I step back from them because to write them is so daunting! I am still trying though, slowly. So thank you for this post because it is exactly how I feel and I'm glad to know that I'm not alone. That I'm not defective -just a writer.