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!…