Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Fear of Writing

© Maxim Golubchikov
Dreamstime Stock Photos
It was one of those email newsletters from authors for authors. I had just signed up for it and got my first edition on the first of the month. I opened it. But the lead article stopped me in my tracks.

The feature article was by a well known author. I like her writing and I've even met her in person. But the title of the article screamed that I dared not write if I was "behind-the-times." If I wrote, and if I wasn't up-to-date in my understanding of how things are done today, I might as well not write or else I'll become a laughingstock!

I tried reading the article. I really tried. But the first few lines told me I was doing it all wrong. (Tweet that!)

You're Doing It All Wrong!

My punctuation. My point-of-view. All wrong.

If I'm doing that wrong, what else am I doing wrong that I don't know about? And where do I go to find out?

The idea of having to figure out how to research in order to find out all the things I'm doing wrong and learn the current "right" way to do it seemed like such a huge, mountainous learning curve. I was overwhelmed.

Then I Felt Angry

Then I felt angry. Who was this author to tell me I'm doing it all wrong? (Tweet that!) I've been writing for publication since the late 80s. It angered me to have someone telling me I don't know what I'm doing. I've fallen behind. Get out of the way and let the younger people do it right.

What about the novel I wanted to start writing? The one I've wanted to write for years. The novel of my heart. Is it going to be a waste of time? Because I'm so old-fashioned and out of date and times have changed so much that I'm doing it all wrong? Good grief. Why even start?

I don't have a chance.

I Don't Have a chance?

For heaven's sake I don't want to write the novel of my heart and then find out it has made me a laughing stock. Nobody wants to be a laughingstock, right?

Can someone please tell me where does an author go to learn the so-called "right" way of writing?

The fear of doing it all wrong stopped me. I was dead in the water. I feared writing a single word. (Tweet that!)

Never thought that would happen to me.

But I'm a Good Writer

But wait a minute. I'm a good writer. I know I am. I've been off on other adventures the past few years: screenwriting and filmmaking and all kinds of exciting things. Now that I want to come back to write one of the novels I've always wanted to write, I'm told I'll never make it because I'm "behind the times"?! (Tweet that!)

Have you ever felt like that? (I hope not.) But have you ever feared writing? (Tweet that!) Maybe you've experienced it for a different reason. Like fearing what people will think of your story. Or fearing putting yourself out there. Or fearing something else.

Fortunately I have a friend who calmed me down and offered to help. "Just write your story the way you want to," she said. "Forget all that stuff. Write it and show it to me and I'll show you how to fix whatever is needed. I'll help you."

I melted. What a relief. What a great friend.

After she talked me down off the ledge, I could see that I'm not that behind-the-times. The few things that are different from twenty years ago are easy to change. I can make the transition. I'm going to be okay!

When the Fear of Writing Strikes, What Can We Do?

Looking back on my time of fear, I can see three things that can help in our time of panic when we feel afraid to write. (Tweet that!) I hope these will help you when you need it:

1.) Find a Friend

Writing is a lonely business. Writers spend hours at a stretch alone with our stories. When we finally come up for air, we can discover others don't "get" what we're doing. Or they don't "get" our story. Or they think they have better ideas.

Critiquing is good. It's a good way to grow and learn and help each other. But we also need a friend who isn't going to rip our writing apart. We need a writing friend who can help us.

My friend and I meet regularly -- at least twice a month. (Tweet that!) We talk about what we're working on, what difficulties we're having, and what we want to accomplish before the next time we meet. We help each other. I've been helped over stumbling blocks. I've been encouraged to try big things. I've offered her ideas which I hope help her. More than anything, I'm not in this alone. Someone is there with me, struggling along beside me. And on the rare occasion when I really need it, she talks me down on off the ledge.

2.) Write it Your Way

This takes courage. It takes daring. But I dare you! Do it. Go for it. Try it. (Tweet that!)

I learned a great lesson last fall when I had a new and exciting adventure. A film crew was filming a feature movie in a town about 30 miles from me. I applied to work as an extra on the film and was hired to work two days. What a great opportunity!

The film was based on a novel titled Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Of course I had to find out more about this book and how it became a movie. In my research I discovered some interesting information.

The author was actually born in the city I live in now. He lived in Colorado and wrote several novels about a fictional Colorado town.

He also wrote without quotation marks.
"No quotation marks – ever. He said he liked the way it looked on the page,” according to an interview with the author's wife in The Mountain Mail (Salida, Colorado).
His wife did his editing before it went to his publisher, Vintage / Penguin Random House. I thought that meant she would put in the quotation marks. But when I ran over to Barnes & Nobel to get the book I discovered no, she did not put in any quotation marks. Nor did the publisher. There isn't a set of quotation marks in the book.

To spoof a line from the movie Back to the Future: "Rules? Where we're going, we don't need rules!"

This is what I mean when I say "write it your way." Ditch the so-called rules.

3.) Don't Let It Stop You!

The other thing I learned when I researched Our Souls at Night is that when the author wrote the book, he was dying. (Tweet that!) Kent Haruf learned it was terminal in February. Previously it had taken him six years to write a book. But he decided to write another story. He didn't tell his publisher.

By August 1 he had a draft. By September 15th he was ready to send it to his editor at the publishing house, as a surprise. In late November the publisher sent back a surprise: a mock-up of the book so Kent could see it. He died the following day, on November 30, 2014. His wife finished the final edits the next day.

You can read more about this story in the article, "'Our Souls at Night': Interview with Cathy Haruf reveals insight into author's work," The Mountain Mail, August 31, 2016.

This author knew he was dying and yet he wrote another book. And now his book is being made into a Netflix movie, Netflix's first theatrical release, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

Now that's a writer who didn't let anything stop him.