Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What gets in the way

Last October, I did what they recommend fledgling writers not do: I quit my day job. It wasn't a decision made lightly and it was done for personal/family reasons that are beyond the scope of this particular post. It has enabled me to focus more on my writing and for that I am grateful, though I do wonder if having more time has in fact made me more productive.

There are many factors that can get in the way of writing, both external and internal. My sense is that many writers focus on the external: work, family constraints, financial stress, the chaos of the publishing world, to name a few. And yes, those external factors are valid, but plenty of writers have written (and continue to write) successful novels even while working full time, raising children, and the like.

I believe that it is the internal issues that most hobble a writer.

And the biggest internal impediment is fear.

Fear of failure stops so many people in their tracks, or at their keyboards. The internal critic becomes the crippling voice of doubt. This sucks. You can't write. No one will want to read this.

All artists have to learn to deal with this voice--this fear--in order to create.

But there is another fear, just as damaging and just as insidious.

The fear of success.

It probably feels a little schizophrenic to have both these fears simultaneously, but I suspect this is pretty common. In fact, the fear of success if probably just another flavor of the fear of failure. It's the 'Wizard of Oz'/Impostor problem. If this gets published, people are going to read it and see how terrible I really am.

Neither of these fears are rational, but they can be crippling. But they are also vulnerable to the light of laughter and exposure. Both of these fears have been lurking around my subconscious closet lately. I had to drag them out, kicking and screaming, and name them.

Early in my search for an agent, I wrote a poem "Rejection" to sort through my emotions. This is an excerpt:

A hundred or more of the same
sterile letters folded in envelopes
addressed in my own hand
and I would still count
only blessings. I will not be beaten
for words, the right words, lack of words,
silence when I should have shouted,
a hemmorhage of sentences,
paragraphs when I should have been

The poem ends with this:

But if I stop
scratching pen to paper,
I would die as surely as any
chicken who refuses
to scratch the dirt for food.

Every word that spills out on the page is an act of defiance. An act that says 'take this, fear, and shove it where the sun don't shine.'

Go. Be brave. Write.

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