I’m afraid to write this story because…

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Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything;
That’s how the light gets in.

— LEONARD COHEN

In THE WAR OF ART, Steven Pressfield writes, “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

That last line—the more scared we are . . . the more sure we can be that we have to do it—resonates with me strongly.

“Have to do it.”

No matter how many times I sit down to write WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT AT 10:16, fear overtakes me. To face this fear, I decided to ask myself why that is. In a five minute exercise in which I wrote by hand in a notebook, this is what I came up with.

I’m afraid to write this story because…

  • I’ve had numerous false starts in the past when trying to start this story back up again
  • I will fail, utterly and completely
  • My rough draft may be as good as it gets
  • Something I write may offend a family member or friend, and I do not want that
  • I have a hard enough time juggling work with family commitments as is—this will make it even harder
  • I’m not really a good writer or storyteller
  • I struggle with putting together a cohesive structure/narrative framework for which the story must follow
  • No one cares about this story or will even read it except for me and perhaps a handful of people
  • It’s difficult to revise all these years later now that I am much older
  • I will expose parts of me or my beliefs that will leave me vulnerable or open to judgment
  • Writing this story will remind me ever the more how difficult it is for me to focus for long periods of time and this frustrates me more than anyone could ever know
  • The story is too big and complex and I will not figure it out, and will fail yet again at completing it

Regardless of these fears I have in writing this story, I must face my fears head on. I will not give up this time.

I give myself permission to write poorly. I give myself permission to write drivel. By giving myself permission to write in this way, I allow myself a freedom I have not known before in facing this story on the page.

This great big scary thing is only as scary as I make it out to be. What is unseen in the dark looks just the same with the light shined on it. It does not have sharp teeth or claws. To the contrary, it may smile back at you for befriending it.

Thank you for reading.

4 Comments

  1. I appreciate this post. I did not, however, love the War of Art. I took exception with parts of it in a big, huge way. But I do love that you love it and that it’s mattered to and affected you.

    I hope you’re well. 🙂

    • Which parts? In asking this, I must apply the following preface: in less than a week after reading a book, I have an astonishing ability to forget large swaths of a book’s contents. It’s been about two years since I read THE WAR OF ART, but at the time, I do remember it being quite the kick in the butt for me. I will say, however, I did not care for the follow-up books to it at all.

  2. Love it, Jeffrey. I have the same fears and concerns. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and audiobooks related to writing and I feel like they help rile me up to write and tease the fear out of me.

    It’s still there, though. I guess it’s something we should write through until maybe some day it eases slightly. Or we should just welcome it along as part of the ride.

    In Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she has a chapter on courage. I love this part where she describes writing as being on a road trip with her creativity and fear.

    “It isn’t always comfortable or easy carrying your fear around with you on your great ambitious road trip but it’s always worth it. If you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. And that would be a pity because your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous. And you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here…and you have treasures hidden within you, extraordinary treasures and bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and hours of devotion and the clock is ticking and the world is spinning and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

    That sort of jolted me out of my aversion to my writing. I’m still not at the point where I’m writing regularly and I’m dancing around the real events of my life that I want to reach. I’m getting closer but still afraid to face the truths head on for various reasons but hurting others involved is a big one.

    I’m also afraid of judgement on my writing, on my perspectives-but I believe in myself and my reasons, and from what I know from your writing-I feel like you do too.

    • What a great excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. I’d never heard of BIG MAGIC, but it’s now on my to-read list. That about sums it up, and it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: one life. You have just one. So, why on earth shouldn’t you be the you you are when it’s dark at night or early in the morning and everyone else is sleeping and you’re sitting under a bright LED desk lamp pecking away at the keyboard or scribbling words in a notebook.

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