Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for Fear

The biggest thing stopping me writing for decades, was fear of failure. Closely followed by fear of success. You don't get a book slightly published, you're either in or you are out. Nearly every writer is out, including me. You write and polish and write some more, and someone may like it. But probably not enough to publish it.

So I wrote and wrote - but only first drafts. That way I could never send it out, have it tested, or have to cope with rejection. Few people cope well with rejection. I probably cope less well than most. I have had a lot of positive feedback over the years, from the people who don't write as well as I do, but giving it to people who know loads more than me? That's terrifying. They are going to have a vast red pen, give me a D- and tell me it's all rubbish. It will be year 9 geography, all over again.

I started by giving my work, very tentatively, to a creative writing tutor for the Open College of the Arts. She was enthusiastic, and helpful, and had about a hundred suggestions on improvements I could make. I agonised over it, and gave up. Once the bruises faded, I went back for round 2. Ouch, ouch ouch. I look back at those assignments now, and see what she saw: vivid, lively prose lamentably reliant on abstracts like adjectives and adverbs. Fluidly drawn characters, unusual descriptions that painted a bright picture, poor pacing, a reliance on telling. I learned probably half of what I now know about writing from that tutor. I also, finally, learned to deal with criticism, to see the positives as well as the negatives.

What I can now say to new writers is: those negative remarks that we fear so much? After the sting eases, they give us a window into the world we can't get to otherwise - the reader. How they react, how the prose comes off the page for someone who comes fresh to it, helps us write better. Does the character come across as mysterious, or just creepy? Is the dialogue realistic or does it sound like someone reading lines from a play? Does the description evoke an atmosphere or is it unreal to the reader?

Constructive criticism - harder to find as you get to be a better writer - is a gift. Because once you have written your novel, rejection doesn't usually come with constructive criticism, it's just the distant sound of another door slamming. Fear of failure can stop us tapping on the next door, which is sad. 

I'm coping better with my fears now. Which paradoxically may make me more likely to send stuff out, and possibly succeed.    

9 comments:

  1. Oh how I identify with this post. Failure is my nemesis. I have so much of it boiling in my blood. *sigh*

    I loved reading this and it gave me hope. Thank you for posting this. I really appreciate knowing other writers have fear of failure too.

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    1. Your determination just has to be bigger than your fear!

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  2. Great post. I agree, the criticism hurts but we need ot hear it to improve.

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    1. I just think we need to keep the criticism constructive. And I find other writers generally do, and are fantastically generous with their time and energy.

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  3. I've lived with fear of failure, as well, and am only just now beginning to get a handle on it. Like you said, the wonderfully odd thing about it is that, once you begin to face it, it opens up so many areas of your brain that were closed before.

    Jessica
    A to Z Blogger & SF/Fantasy Writer @ Visions of Other Worlds

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    1. Absolutely. I think I locked much more than that away. Taking a chance again has opened other doors.

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  4. This is one of many things that resonate within all new writers. Facing any fear can be a huge challenge, but with courage and determination it is not beyond defeat.

    Great post.

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  5. Thank you Heather - I agree, if the determination outweighs the fear you can't lose!

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  6. Great post! And what a gift you had in that writing tutor. Keep it up! Fear of rejection is very real (b/c rejection is painful!!) but you are obviously making progress! Thanks for the encouraging post.

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