Writing Terrors

Jean Arthur in Mr Deeds Goes to Town
Category: Writing
Tagged: fear, challenges

 I sat down to write and no words came. The same happened the next day, then the next and the days after that.

I was supposed to be a writer but I was too frightened to write. The fears were all tangled up, so I teased them out and here’s what I was frightened of:

Fear of doing it wrong. Fear of everyone else doing it right. Fear of not doing it at all. Fear of starting. Fear of finishing. Fear of being stuck in the middle of something as it slowly squeezed the life out of me and never let me go. Fear of sharing. Fear of friends thinking they have to say nice things about my writing. Fear of friends saying my writing is ‘nice’. Fear of sending it out and being rejected. Fear of sending it out and being ignored. Fear of sending it out and it being picked up and then realising it wasn’t that good after all. Fear of people laughing when it’s not supposed to be funny. Fear of them not laughing when it is supposed to be funny. Fear of being too old and having started too late, though it used to be fear of being too young and having started too soon. Fear of having nothing to say. Fear of exposing myself. Fear of being mocked. Fear of not being considered cool/experimental/fresh/exciting/edgy. Fear of cliché. Fear of mediocrity. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being understood all too well.

Fear of antagonising family and friends by writing about them. Fear of family and friends thinking I was writing about them even when I wasn’t. Fear that people will read my fiction as though it’s memoir. Fear that someone else has already written my novel. Fear that someone else is writing my novel right now and will finish it before I do. Fear that their novel will be better than any novel I could ever write. Fear it will be worse than any novel I could ever write but will succeed anyway. Fear that by a twist of fate someone else has stolen my success as a writer and is living the life I should be leading as a best-selling novelist (I never claimed these fears were rational). Fear that any success I’ve had was a mistake. Fear that any success I’ve had was not only a mistake but the last/only bit of success I will ever have. Fear that I will never write anything as good again as that one bit of fluky writing that was a success.

Fear that the world is bursting with books and does not need another one, certainly not one written by me. Fear that everything has already been said/thought/written. Fear that I am writing in the wrong genre. Fear that I am writing in no recognisable genre. Fear of failure in plain sight of my children/family/friends. Fear of letting people down. Fear of success and the responsibility it would bring (performing and publicising and writing some more). Fear that I haven’t done enough research; just one more book, one more article may make all the difference. Fear that writing will use up every last moment of my life. Fear that there aren’t enough moments left in my life to write something good. Fear that somehow I’m in a ‘race to success’ with my writing buddies and it’s a race I can only ever lose. Fear of being jealous of other writers. Fear of them being jealous of me. Fear of becoming obsessed with writing to the exclusion of everything else, ever. Fear of becoming so obsessed with writing that I can never travel/visit an art gallery/watch a film/read a newspaper/live life in any way without analysing how it impacts on my writing. Fear that despite all the time, effort and angst invested in it, my writing will inevitably come to nothing because I am not even a writer.

May I suggest, if you’re similarly blinded by fear, to get your fears out into the daylight, watch some of them shrivel and some of them strengthen, acknowledge them, poke them around a bit, and then write anyway. Put words on the page. They don’t have to be perfect words, they don’t even have to be good words – they just have to be words. And then you are a writer.

Catherine Simpson

Catherine Simpson is an Edinburgh-based writer and 2012 recipient of a New Writer's Award. She is currently working on her second novel, Truestory. Learn more at catherine-simpson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @dandelion63.