It's good to be scared

I'm a naturally anxious person. You may or may not know this about me depending on how many social media sites you follow me on. If you follow me on twitter, you've no doubt seen late night tweets about insomnia and panic attacks. Anxiety is a terrible thing to live with; it can exhaust you to no end. Like stress, too much of it can really shut you down, but there is a level of anxiety that is actually good for you. In fact, some anxiety can be helpful.

As a writer, I can work through my anxiety in different ways. Sometimes running away to my fictional worlds help me escape the realities of my own. Living inside a character's head can be easier than living in my own at times. It's nice to explore the "what if's" of somebody else's life with no consequences to my own. And of course, I love writing. The simple act of sitting down and typing out a scene or a chapter is in itself relaxing.

It's not until after I'm done writing that I get scared again. I'm suddenly on the outside of the work, looking in. I am seeing the mistakes, the sloppiness, everything that needs to be changed. What I thought (in the moment) was something original and exciting reads as drivel. And DEAR GOD why did I think this was a good book to write? The editor in me is brutal, and nothing is ever good enough. That's what most writers will tell you: they are their own worst critic. I'm definitely my worst critic, and my inner dialogue can get pretty biting.

Where does this harsh self-criticism come from? Simple answer: fear.

Why did something I once love change into something I now view as trash? Has my opinion of it really changed so drastically? No... Not really, anyway. I still will always love my characters and the stories I write, no matter how down I get on myself. There really is a reason I decided to write this book or this scene. I loved it; that's why it materialized from just an idea!

What happens (to me, at least) is fear. When I write, I write in isolation. I don't letter that inner voice or my editor-brain click on. I let the scene flow and don't look back. Sometimes I'll write in the dark or in the middle of the night because it's easier to be honest when you're too tired to think straight. There's no judgment, not pressure, just... story. That's a great place to be. If I can stay in this frame of mind long enough, I can have a very productive editing session. Revisions, when you're still in the honeymoon phase of your idea, aren't about tearing apart your manuscript -- though you might be; it's about polishing the gems you've already laid. It's about taking something good and making it great, or taking something awesome and making it... awesome...er.

But step out of this headspace and WHAM. You're smacked with not only your inner critic, but also those outside critics. It's a fear of being judged: by readers, by other writers, hell, maybe even your family or friends. What if they don't like your story? What if they think it's weird or stupid? What if... what if... And it all spirals down from there. It gets worse when you have access to negative reviews of your writing. Remember that 1-star GoodReads rating you got the other month? Of course you do! That review has been replaying in your head every day since you've read it! Or how about that article you read that discredited the YA genre as a whole (which can not only boil my blood but really let the air out of my balloon when I'm in a good-writing-mood)? And let's not even mention the hundreds of nay-sayers about making writing a career and not just a hobby.

Yeah, there's a lot to be afraid about when you choose to put yourself out there as an author. You invest so much time -- blood, sweat, tears, and red pens -- into writing the best book you can and then you just have to send it out into the world without a safety net. You throw it into the great (and amazing) abyss that is the world of publishing and cross your fingers that it's well received. (Of course there are other things you need to do to make sure people actually catch your book when you throw it, and buy a copy! But that's a different post.) There will be people who like it. There will even be those who LOVE it! But be prepared for those who don't. Because if you've written something worth reading, you will evoke some kind of emotion out of people -- positive or negative, in this respect it's all actually a good thing. And I don't think I've ever read a book that didn't have a negative review... Books with only amazing ratings are like unicorns; mystical and probably a bit dangerous.

Fear and writing... I think the two go together. Especially if you are writing about something that means something to you. And you should be! But how do we deal with fear? Should we try to eliminate it from our process? No. Absolutely not. Being scared is good. I know. It's hard to hear that, and in the moment of fear it's impossible to believe. So I'll say it again: Being scared is GOOD. It's great! It means this book means something to you! It means you have invested some part of yourself into this book. It means you care. What's important is to accept the fear and move past it.

Don't let fear stop you in your tracks. Instead let it nip at your heels as you press forward. Let the fear bring passion to your writing; let your fear motivate you to always try better than the last time, to keep pushing yourself to write the best you can. Allow the fear to inspire you. Don't compare yourself to other writers (trust me -- that's a bottomless pit of doom and despair). Don't dote on those negative reviews, and every now and then, tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. If you're having a hard time shaking off the anxiety about writing that next scene, revisit your early notes of your manuscript. Remember what made you start writing and what you love about this story. And then write. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, no matter how scared you get. Because being scared is good.

This post has been revived from the archives.

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