Today begins the rest of my success story. It just hasn’t happened yet.
It’s only the beginning. So for now, I’m emotionally raw, exhausted from lack of sleep and living with that dull, heavy dread that pounds in my chest like an alien and follows me around like a shadow. (I don’t even care about editing away mixed metaphors today). For now, I’m a writer, not a professional. Not yet, though. See how I did that? And I will be, you mark my words. Because I can, that’s why. Because I’m going to move quicker than my fear, faster than my negative mind. But for now, I have nothing to show for it.
See, though, that’s not true. That’s how easy the negativity speaks up. It’s lightning quick, isn’t it? Bastard. I have so much potential. And I have this blog here, huh? Y’all like my blog, dontcha? (A woo woo and a few claps echo from the back my mind.)
I smile as the moment fades and I realize that I don’t know what to do next. I want this to stop, this dread of the future ahead of me; of the flash forwards of all the bad things that will happen to me if I follow my dreams of being a writer, take the plunge and write and submit, critique and submit some more. But action requires an aim, and I’m fresh out of aim or even direction. I’ve lost my compass. It’s getting dark and I don’t even have a tent to sleep in. I am alone in the wilderness.
But is that what will really happen? Because, you see, now that I think of it, it’s not this dread of the unknown that makes me feel so horrible, it’s my version of the dread of the unknown. It’s not the unknown itself because the unknown is nothing, it’s a void, it’s unwritten, and I will write it. So the fear is what stops me and makes me feel this way.
Fear. A natural, useful emotion to have. That should be a tv ad:
Did you know that most people fear things?!
Did you know that anxiety is rising in our society as the number one psychological pandemic of the millennium?
But have no fear, there’s Fear!
After all, Fear’s what got us all here.
From the dawn of civility to right now, Fear has always been there.
So the next time you want to ask your boss for a raise or better yet, quit your job to pursue your dreams, just have Fear! And thank your lucky stars you’re alive to feel it.
Fear: an all-natural, essential emotion.
Brought to you by sabertooth tigers.
Fear stays with us until the moment of truth at the end of our lives, and so do its relatives—anxiety, worry, and restlessness. Writers, being the best at making up stories, tell ourselves stories of a hopeless but inevitable future, and retell ourselves our wounded stories of the past. It’s any wonder we get blocked; however, it’s not about avoiding fear but how we act in the face of it. That means facing risk, and risk is where we can use the minute part of our control to do something about our situation. We just have to want to risk what we have.
And risk? Risk sucks. But risk is at the heart of everything creative. Risk was never in my plans. I got a job at a pizzeria to make my money while I wrote and worked on my craft. Then one day, I’d get published and people would just give me bags of money. So I never risked anything. I never sought out other writers, for solace, comfort, or critique, because I felt I wasn’t good enough yet. Or worse, I felt I was better than them, which is just another way to make excuses to not risk.
Risk as a writer means deliberate vulnerability. It means allowing your work to be vulnerable to another; then allowing your work to be vulnerable to agents, editors, and publishers; and finally allowing your work to be vulnerable to readers. It’s tough. It’s really fucking tough.
I’ve spent about eighteen years working on my craft, all the time thinking I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, lucky enough. Enough with the enoughs! I want it and need it, and my fears be damned, I’m going for it! It is no less than my spirit, my voice, and my passion. I was afraid for so long, but I tell you, I’m not afraid now. Well, yes I am, but I’m going anyway!
In the future, when I arrive at another bend in the road of my life, I will be afraid. I know I will be afraid, I can’t help but be afraid. And as I move along this path, new dangers mean fresh fear. But having spent time with my fear, I can recognize it, physically and psychologically, and by recognizing it, I can deal with it.
I will press on. So will you. We will take those risks. Because you see, that’s the most important thing—that since we can’t banish fear completely from our minds (nor would we want to), we must take a breath, and move our bodies in spite of what our brains say. We must keep pressing on.
The unknown is just that, not known, and it’s not good or bad but what we ourselves make it. We don’t know what’s going to happen unless we try. And it’s okay if we fail.
Did you read what I wrote? Read it again:
It’s okay to be scared and anxious and have panic attacks and cry into your hands, shaking so much with fear that you think that at any moment you’re going to collapse. It’s okay because that means you’re doing something your heart wants but your brain thinks it can’t do, but you’re going anyway! Because you can do it!
Dread is the flip side of nostalgia. These two work together, but for most people it’s only one way. Every person experiences dread as they think about a change in their life, and they start to immediately think to the past to keep them from doing it, with nostalgia being a drug of sorts. They know the past, and therefore reference to it.
Again, this is natural and has worked in our favor, otherwise, just like running into traffic, we fall prey to all kinds of dangers. But for some they work together both ways. In these individuals, if they feel dread, they think of the past and get all warm and fuzzy; but then, with too much of that, they go towards the unknown in order to grow, to find love or life, to replace the fears in their hearts with courage, the dread in their chest with passion. To ask questions. These are artists. Writers are artists.
Get it? It means you rock. It means you’re a rebel. It’s means, evolutionarily speaking, you’re advanced and advancing.
If I’m afraid of spiders, should I just pick one up? No, because it could be a bad idea involving pain and even death, depending on what spider it is. (Are daddy-long-legs poisonous?!) So first I should read up on types of spiders. Force myself to look at spiders. Analyze myself, not necessarily unearthing all that started this phobia in the first place (your past doesn’t matter anyhow), but by taking notice of myself, my reactions, my nightmares and dreads of these eight-legged monsters. Expose yourself to your fear, step by step, then go near one. Look at your fear in one of those glass tanks they got in the pet store. Maybe buy one. Pretty soon, you’ll be best of friends.
And then you’ll say one of the most wonderful things a scared but courageous human being will ever say, the one thing that will make you more confident for future fears, the one thing that will make you cry out, not in pain, but in joy:
“What was I so worried about?!”
I’m going to tell you something because I myself need to do this too: be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself, every single day of your life. Love your fuck ups but also love your accomplishments: both are who you are. We’re all human beings, imperfect and dumb but lovable. Work on your writing and make it the best you can.
Then venture out.
It can be so easy to stay in your room and abuse yourself about what you know but you don’t know. That’s not writing, that’s abuse. I think it’s ironic that there’s so much connectivity in the world and yet we find ourselves scared, angry, disconnected, and disheartened. You’re not alone. Join a writer’s group. Or simply walk into a bookstore and ask the counter person what books they like in your favorite genre.
Surround yourself with writer nerds that will help boost your morale and get you connected to events and projects. Give them some of your work. Offer to read theirs. Don’t be a perfectionist. Every writer who has ever lived has been terrible in their projects until they weren’t. You’ll get better. Sign up for a class. Meet with a teacher. Follow a writer on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and follow everyone they follow. Get your voice out there. Then you’ll see that we’re all struggling together, and that there’s plenty of room for you here.
It’s going to be tough, make no mistake. There’s going to be struggle. But we can adapt to anything. That’s what humans do. Yes, fear and dread got us here, but we don’t need its full attention anymore. What we need now is love and hope, patience and understanding. For ourselves first and foremost. But most of all, we need to tap into creativity. Creativity can turn any situation into a learning experience, a curious experience.
You can do this. If no one else believes in you (including yourself)…
It’s natural to be afraid. It’s common to do nothing about it. But you’re not common or natural—you’re a writer! Which means you’re one of the most courageous breeds of creative human beings on the planet. We wrestle our minds daily. We struggle in make-believe. We are constantly set against all of the art before and beyond us. It’s easy to climb up a mountain. It’s not easy to climb the mountain of our lives to sit down and write our heart’s desires to the world.
Stay strong, lit nerds.
Create and Complete!