Fear. Like Springsteen said, ‘it can turn our hearts black and fill our souls with devils and dust’.
I think at times, it’s easy to become our own worst critic. And with something as intimate as writing, fear can often rule us. Whether it’s finding the motivation to get those words down, or showing our work to others, fear creeps in at every opportunity. It’s especially easy to feel afraid when the whole publishing industry is built upon the idea of success being possible, seemingly because of the luck of chance. The “aspiring author” has almost become something of a cult; there are so many hopeless tales of slush-pile disasters and multiple rejections, that those hard to get deals begin to feel like getting published is on par with trying to win the lottery. So the doubt creeps in and leaves us wondering, is all the hard work even worth it?
It’s only after extensive research, and many hours spent writing my own novel, that I realised everyone – including authors – suffer from some form of fear when it comes to writing. Putting your soul on a page is downright nerve-wracking, and it takes tremendous courage to write well – because a writer has to move past the epic fear we all face, and do it anyway. The question is, how do you prevent it from consuming you and your writing? The answer is simply, through lots of practise, support and self-motivation. Here are some tips that have worked for me.
Stop the comparisons – I used to think that in order to start writing a novel, I had to wait for that one big idea to take flight in my imagination. I thought that manuscripts were written in one long seamless stretch of perfect writing and flawless grammar. The notion of a first draft, second draft, third draft, even a fiftieth draft, was kind of foreign to me. I had no idea that many of the published books I had read and enjoyed went through this relentless process (and often with the help of professional editors along the way). So, to sit down at the laptop and expect my writing to be anywhere near as polished as those published novels, or to even compare my work to them, is simply a paralysing notion. Your writing style is unique to you. How you write and what you write is a mark of your identity that sets you apart from others. No one else can tell your stories, and even if they tried, the words wouldn’t ring true because they simply haven’t experienced life from your vantage point. And the same can be said from the novels you read and the authors you admire. So the point is, your style is unique, special, and something to be proud of. And chances are, others may think the same way about their work when compared to yours.
Show your work to others – It took a lot for me to gather enough courage to allow others to read my work. I could write with no problem, but having someone else sample the work gripped me with fear. Thoughts of ‘this sucks, total rubbish, please stop writing’ would echo relentlessly in my mind. I think sometimes the solitude of the craft of writing somehow convinces us that we must go at it alone, and that’s simply not true …not anymore, anyway. With so many social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs available to us, it’s easy to find other like-minded individuals out there who are more than happy to become a pillar of support for your writing. These communities offer a seemingly unlimited amount of talented aspiring authors willing to both encourage your dreams, celebrate your triumphs, tell you what works and what doesn’t, and most importantly, to prevent the fear and doubts creeping in. Even finding a small group of friends and family can help provide with the encouragement needed on those bad days. A writing partner or support group of fellow writers can be tremendously helpful.
Keep a positive outlook – Fear is negativity, and it can sometimes feel like a curse. It’s the dark presence looming over your shoulder, casting its shadow of doubt across every word you write. It has a knack for stifling even an ounce of creativity and can leave us feeling empty. There are thousands of quotes out there sprouting words about being our own worst enemy and letting negativity block our path to success. They are all completely true. Our thoughts can either propel us into greatness or cast us aside in shame. It’s easy to feel like giving up when our thoughts take a turn for the worse, but it doesn’t help to dwell on problems; fix them, and know that even the darkest nightmare eventually ends, and so will the negative thoughts seizing you. Sometimes all it takes is a little break from your work to take your mind off things, and return later with an improved focus. And if possible, read through positive feedback that you may have received on past projects – those helpful comments will give you the drive to continue on with your work and leave those negative thoughts in the past.
Do it with love – Write because you love it, and because it makes you happy. Don’t write because you believe it to be your meal ticket to success or validation of your abilities. Writing a novel takes a long time, so it’s important to write about something you really care about in order to remain invested in it. Writing will be a much more pleasurable and enriching experience if you’re doing it from the heart, and especially if you’re writing about something you love, and not just chasing trends. When writing with pure passion, it’s hard to let fear stand in the way.
Ultimately, writing takes persistence and perseverance. Someone once said to me, ‘keep writing and the good stuff will come out’ – fight the fear, and if your writing is good enough, it will be read by someone who sees that.
Megan Sougleris holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and Professional Writing from the University of South Australia, and currently works in publishing for the South Australian Government. Earlier this year, Megan was accepted for a UK-based writing mentorship and is currently drafting her first novel. In her spare time she enjoys reading, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends. Megan blogs about writing, life and other things at www.meganannwrites.wordpress.com