We writers were the children who believed monsters hid under our beds. It was completely believable to us that the ghosts and ghouls would choose to haunt us since we read it every day in our beloved books. And our budding imagination found the lurking terrors in every swaying curtain in the dark and approaching with every creaking floor board.
There is so little logic that comes with the spark of creativity, we live on the side of the brain with emotions and, yes that includes fear. Yet, when we experience fear in our art it may limit us, make us want to return to our norms, return to our rut, our safe secure spot by the fire; not to say to the other campers “I’ll be right back, I want to check out that weird noise.”
Fear can hold us back; so we write another genre story, another tale with the same characters, not daring to see what other surprises were hiding in the folds of our brain. Some may argue with me, but I believe this niche genre writing that is so prevalent in books today can limit us as artists, as storytellers, confining our creativity and the extent of our imagination.
Yes, my fellow writers, sometimes we need to face our fears. Try something new. And, yes, you did hear a noise over by the lake, you should check it out! Let the other writers wait for you to return.
Lightning Flashes on a Dark Night!
As a writer I feel fear all of the time.
Whenever an idea enters my thoughts, my first reaction is usually to try and forget it. (Especially, if it is after midnight and I just want to fall asleep, not run to the computer.) It always feels like too much work, too daunting, too big. I’m sure every writer here knows this feeling and has had this thought:
“Do I really have the energy and attention and time to create a new work like that?”
Fear, it feels like fear to me.
My heart races a little and I might even feel little beads of sweat as my mind wraps itself around whatever spark has ignited within it. A thousand great ideas might live or die at this moment in each of us.
Pass the Broken and Swinging Gate
When I was starting off as a writer I wanted to experience everything. I wanted to test my ability see where my strengths lay. Many writers do this, I know, but I took it to extremes. If I was studying, for example, romantic poetry (Coleridge, Keats, etc.) I would go home and attempt a poem that would mirror their style. I even, if you can believe it, wrote my own Canterbury Tale.
I kid you not!
See, in the original text, the pilgrims were supposed to tell two stories, well, I wrote the second story for the knight (who Terry Jones once argued was a hired mercenary and not so great and noble). And in my “Canterbury Tale,” I had an adventure of a knight and his mighty team taking on an evil magician and I filled it with old English words and meter.
Oh, I am not saying it is any good (I haven’t seen it in over a decade so I can’t honestly judge), but instead of breaking under the fear of “My God! Am I really attempting to be Chaucer?” I instead ran forward, and learned with time, focus, and a lot of patience I could do it.
Facing my fear, each and every time, left me stronger, more confident, and that has made me that much more brave in my own work. How brave?
Exploring the Haunted Graveyard
If someone told me at the start of my career that I would be having two books published this year, one attempting to “create” a new story for Jane Austen (in her voice) and a very experimental Victorian period mystery, well, I would have been flabbergasted. Those books are A Jane Austen Daydream and Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare.
Both ideas when they came to me gave me great fear. The flash that started A Jane Austen Daydream haunted me like a poltergeist for years before I even had the courage to face a notepad and see what was possible with it. See, why these books generated that feeling in me was because they were outside my contemporary voice, my knowledge. I knew that for both I would have to:
- Absorb other writers and their work, until I could feel them in my skin.
- Map out a story that would fit another’s outline, not my own instinct as a storyteller.
- And then, finally, find a way to incorporate my own “spark of an idea” into it that would make complete sense for the audience and in the telling.
A Jane Austen Daydream was a work that was seven years in the making. So many outlines, so many drafts, and that is not even including the amount of reading and re-reading I had to do of her work (I actually had three different kinds of highlighters, each color meaning their own thing). It is a work I would return to when others were completed, never rushing it, overthinking each and every sentence.
Yes, a book on Austen was my haunted house and I explored it happily. AND each day I questioned my own decision to write it or even attempt it.
Oh, and did I mention in my opinion one of the best thing I think I have ever done was a screenplay adaptation of Hamlet? Okay, now I have to wonder if I am a fear-writing junkie… and is that a bad thing?
Feeling the Shiver on the Spine
To understand what I am getting to here is to understand me as a reader.
- I want to be surprised by a book, not see a twist coming.
- I like to be absorbed into a tale, lose time within its pages.
- I love to fall in love with characters; worry about them, care about them.
And I truly believe, looking over the books that stand the test of time (the ones that end up being taught in schools and colleges), that these are the books where writers were brave enough to face a fear, do something new.
I wrote recently that many of the great works in “genre” fiction are those that broke the mold, re-defined it; the ones that set a standard and made all of the other writers and readers wonder about that new potential, that new possibility…. Yeah, I stand by that.
Braving the Cold
You have to have confidence to be a writer.
You have to believe what you are doing is important enough for someone else to waste their time with. It’s not an art for the meek (even though it is created alone) since you expose so much of yourself in a story (sometimes even without realizing it). There is a bravery there, each and every time.
Now, while I have confidence, I’m not arrogant enough to say every writer has to do what I do. That would be silly, but what I would like to say, what I would love other writers to take away from this editorial is that if you have an idea that is outside your normal style, an idea that maybe could be causing your hand to shake a little and your heart to race…
Enter that spooky and dark cavern, my writing friends, enter it!
Didn’t you hear the legend that there might be pirate gold hiding within?
If you liked reading this post, why not check out one of my books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen Daydream, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here; or as an eBook for Doors and Megan on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!…
Ah, yes, the “Hey, that’s an interesting idea…but can I really pull it off?” feeling. I know it well. (>^-‘)>
Thanks for reading! Lol
Well, if I hear a noise in the night I still assume it’s a monster. What else could it possibly be? Writing doesn’t scare me though. Writing is power. Even if it’s only power over, well, hmmm, maybe it is power over that monster.
Hmmm… that sounds like another blog right there. What is writing the power over?
Perhaps the power having the ability to see things that others can’t, and the creativity to turn it into a story. That’s how I feel. I try to keep notes of ideas that flash through my mind and later I can turn it into a story, whether that be an any sort of sign or an experience.
Sorry, I just jumped in between your conversation ( just a thought) 🙂
It’s all good. Thanks for reading.
Pingback: Confidence for Writers « betweenasleepandawake
Glad you liked it. I hope you will check out some of my other editorials. Cheers!
Let’s just stay I still keep the closet doors closed at night. I’ve come to terms that the Boggie Man has his dance space, and I have mine. ; )
It’s men like you that give aspiring new writers the ability to say, I CAN DO THIS. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.
Thank you. What a wonderful comment. I hope you will continue to enjoy my editorials. Cheers!
Hi. I found a lot of value in this post. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your level of committment to your craft. I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan. I found myself jealous over the hours you dedicated to your research into her work. Is A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM available yet? I’d love to read it.
As for facing your fears, for years I wrote contempory romance and shied away from writing Young Adult Fantasy because I thought myself incapable of creating a full world. Recently I dove into a project that has garnered a lot of attention and changed my approach as a writer for the better!
Thank you. I hope you will check out DAYDREAM, it comes out in April. I recently did an interview for the upcoming book with the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. You can read about it and learn more about the work here- https://sdsouthard.com/2013/02/21/an-interview-for-a-jane-austen-daydream-by-the-jane-austen-centre/
I’m glad to hear the article followed your experience. I didn’t say this but the projects that gave me the most challenge are always the ones I always walk away feeling the proudest about (for example, an Austen book! Seriously, what was I thinking???)
Thanks again for reading!
Courage to face the unknown: That is what writing is all about. So many times we are told, write what you know, but it is that courage to face down those scary, intriguing new ideas that makes writing such a great endeavor. Early on, I would constantly question my abilities: “Am I really the right person to write this story?” And as time went on, the answer became “Yes! Keep going!” That revelation was actually very empowering.
thanks for sharing this post!
Am I allowed to say I hate the lesson “write what you know?” I’ve been scared to do it since I started the site. This post was the closest I’ve gotten so far. Very astute of you to catch that…
Absolutely you are allowed to say it! You are facing your fears by doing so! 🙂
You say that, but in my experience in college classrooms and writing tables, there are a lot of people that take it like a 10 Commandment; and to question it is to attack something they hold sacred.
But for me it is right there with the whole “everyone has one story to tell” thing.
That’s sad. Writing is a creative art. If everyone drew, or composed, or wrote only what they knew, where would we be? We’d be waddling around in circles, like those people in the movie “Pleasantville”.
Pingback: Shut up and write! | Dancing with Fireflies
Pingback: My Favorite Writing Posts | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard
I just thought I had writers ‘multiple personality’ disorder. The stories running around in my head are very un-alike. But if you can do Jane Austen and Maximilian, then I can do, steampunk, Christian romance, fairytales and dystopian! Thanks, I am trying to channel the fear into something creative.
I do find steam punk fascinating right now too, but I need to read more.
My dream has always been to have a library of books all different in style, all filled with surprises.
I completely reside within the fear I am not a good enough writer. As a book reviewer and ardent reader, I know that I can be hard to please sometimes, so I have set the bar very high for myself. I think I psych myself out on a daily basis. But the story keeps nagging at me, just pecking away at me, and I finally relent and get more writing done. Fighting the fear is the hardest part of writing.
Thanks for writing. I don’t think setting the bar high for oneself is a problem. It’s a goal to work for (It’s also one of the reasons I have a hard time going back and reading old books). The trick is just to focus on the work in front of you and only that. One trick that works for me if creating a timeframe or an outline to fill in. It helps me center myself on the work, not get lost in questions about readers, agents, publishers, etc.