The fear of writing

It’s hard to decide to be a writer. You decide – or you think you’ve decided. You write, so you’re a writer, And that’s true,

Are writers born, or are they made? Can you make yourself a writer, or is it something you are drawn to, whether from early life or at the age of 65? If you are drawn to it and turn away, is it still a part of you? If you write every day but you could give it up tomorrow and feel nothing, if it’s not in your bones, are you a writer? If you write long posts on Reddit and get upvotes and gold, are you a writer? What makes a writer? What does it mean to decide to be one?

Does it matter?

I had this idea two years ago that I wanted a Masters degree. I discovered I was pretty good at something, that I had a knack for it, that it spoke to me. I wanted to take it further. So now here I am, halfway through a research Masters. People are talking about where they want to do their PhD, Do I want to do a PhD? Christ. You work on one thing all year, every day, and it’s interesting but it gets you down. Do I want to do a PhD? I don’t know. Sometimes I think so. But a PhD is four years of your life and you have to defend it at the end. You’re stuck within a system and I’m not sure that system is something I want. The conferences, the regulations, the traditions.

I like my studies, but I’d rather continue it outside the academic system. Start a website. Write history there. I thought I might start with Medium, because of its built-in structure and monetization options. Freelancing is scary. Do I need to register somewhere? I’ll have to do my own taxes! This is something you can’t do by half-measures, something you have to throw yourself into.

Stupid creature, what did you think writing was? You’ve been slacking off. You get ideas for poems and don’t write them, because you’re afraid they won’t measure up to the image in your head. You haven’t even started on that new novel.

Christ, that novel. It’s actually two novels: Sin Eater and Angels and Dead Men. Neither of them worked alone (and SE went through two separate unworkable plots) and then I realised actually the main characters would play well off one another and I should just shove them together and see what happens.

Great. I was thrilled with myself for that brain wave. But have I started working on that novel? No. Girl, you’re being stubborn. Just get to work. Just write it. Stop procrastinating. Get off Twitter, get off Reddit, get off Youtube. But I have to write my thesis. There are 24 hours in a day, bitch. Do you want this, or not?

I have an app that suggests the heart of procrastination is fear. You don’t want to start that essay or that blog post or that poem because you’re afraid it won’t live up to the perfection – not of the vision in your head, necessarily, but of the in potentia representation of it. There is perfection in the blank page. As soon as you start writing the waveform collapses; you leave the universe where it could have become anything and reduce yourself to a finite number of possibilities. I’ve written this novel three times in other incarnations, and it’s never worked. I don’t want to fuck it up again. I want to live in the world where it has the potential to be anything, to be amazing. But if I never put words to page, does it really have that potential? Or have I chosen a world where it never exists at all?

A bad novel can be made better. A world with no novel at all has to be the worst of all possible choices, right? But so long as I don’t make that decision, it floats ahead of me. It’s the thing I can start tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll write that poem that gets accepted by a magazine. Tomorrow, I’ll hit on a great short story idea out of the blue. Tomorrow, I’ll start writing that article for Medium. It’s less scary that way.

But hey. At least all this procrastination means I’m getting some thesis work done. Or maybe turning away from that PhD is just another form of fear.

3 thoughts to “The fear of writing”

  1. When it comes to fiction, I’m a very slow writer. I know any number of people who can just churn out books and publish them, one after another – and sure that works for some people, but that’s just not the way my brain works. For whatever reason, it sometimes takes me years to come up with the various elusive details that seem to tie everything together. And even if I do a million other things in between and spend my days doubting if I’ll ever finish, when I finally do have it all come together (or start coming together) it reminds me that things take as long as they need to take. Sometimes we have to let it all simmer in the back of our minds while we search for the missing ingredient, and that can take a while, especially if we aren’t sure what that ingredient is. Bigger projects are daunting, especially those that mean a lot to us. We want to get it right, so yeah, it can be easier not to start them (or not to finish them – literally I need solid ending for my one book), but we’ll get to them when we get to them.

    Not to mention, those other things – that is still writing. It might be technical writing, or non-fiction, etc… but it’s still putting words on a page in a way that expresses cohesive thought. And doing that helps to make us better writers. So it’s definitely not time wasted.

    1. Right now, my biggest project is my thesis. I’ve been writing some of it today, and it’s different writing because you have to stop every so often to cite someone or look up that quote – but it’s still writing, it’s still important writing and something I take pride in. And you know, having a writing background really has helped me out. I’ve had the years to find my voice that a lot of the cohort I’m in hasn’t had, and that’s been a leg up, basically.

      I’ve come to realise that I’m actually very bad at plotting ^_^; A scene, a moment, characters and motivation – that’s fine. But I have a lot of trouble finding something for them to do. I look back at Sick Bacchus now, a novel I love with characters I adore, and I know it can be something if I just work out the twist I have to give it to make it better. I’m not sure what that twist is. A little something to make it better, more mature, more intelligent as a novel. And two thirds of the way through I just get lost. I know something has to happen, some moment of clarity and realisation, but I have no idea what that moment is. I really have to read through it again.

      I really don’t know HOW I feel about the book-churners, going from blank page to published in like two months. I know there are plenty of respected authors out there with huge numbers of books and plenty of fans but let’s be honest, most of us aren’t Barbara Cartland XD

      Anyway, I’m here if you want to bounce some plot ideas around re: your WIP. DM me on twitter or something ^_^

      1. That’s pretty much what happens to me. Even when I have a basic outline and have a general idea of what I want to happen, there’s always a point where I get stuck connecting the dots. But at the same time, I’m sort of glad it’s taken me as long as it has to get around to finishing (or hopefully finishing) Darkharte, because honestly it took me this long to really fill in a) my villain’s underlying motivation, b) how the magic system actually works, and most importantly c) what the actual urgency in needing to stop him was. Because before, he was just the bad guy but there was no real reasoning behind any of it or true sense of impending doom other than that was the way I was writing it.

        Of course in the middle of that, I randomly came up with another idea and so DH has moved to the back-burner temporarily while I word vomit (world building and scene snippets, etc…) as much as I can on the new thing. It’s really kind of crazy because it just popped into my brain nearly fully formed, but I dread the actual writing of it part, because I’m also bad at the structuring part (chapters utterly defeat me sometimes). I avoided that with IPS by just going by date, but I can’t do that every time . I mean, I could, but it wouldn’t always make sense to. XD

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