“Only write if you can’t not.” ― Samuel Shem

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“Being an artist doesn’t take much. Just everything you got. Which means of course that as the process is giving you life, it is also bringing you closer to death. But it’s no big deal. They are one in the same and cannot be avoided or denied. So when I totally embrace this process, this life/death, and abandon myself to it completely, I transcend all this gibberish and hang out with the gods. It seems to me that that is worth the price of admission.” ― Hubert Selby Jr.

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“For me the thing that signals a great story is what we might call its autonomy, the fact that it detaches itself from its author like a soap bubble blown from a clay pipe.” ― Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

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“Grub Street turns out good things almost as often as Parnassus. For if a writer is hard up enough, if he’s far down enough (down where I have been and am rising from, I am really saying), he can’t afford self-doubt and he can’t let other people’s opinions, even a father’s, keep him from writing.” ― Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

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The Fear Express

hand writing painfulSo much stifled creativity. So many tasks left undone, So many dreams abandoned. So much joy robbed before life gets breathed into it. Fear eats at us. Fear debilitates us. Fear…can drive us…

We all possess them. Fears. They wallow about in our subconscious minds, purposing to take root, often attached to the silliest or most trivial of circumstances. I’ve experienced fear simply from the need of making a phone call.

Tracing back the lines of our fears to their inceptions can be daunting, yet rewarding. I’ve found that often I don’t recognize I’m even in a “fear” event. I’ve had to learn to identify when I’m procrastinating and balking and dragging my feet, which helps define the relationship between my reticence to move forward and some insidious fear lurking within.

Sometimes, I get depressed and I struggle to move forward with my workshops and writing. Eventually, when I step back and allow myself some introspection, I realize I’m fearing something which prohibits me from moving forward. Yes, I may be moving, and the direction may be indeed, forward, but I have no larger picture. I work on projects, like most writers, which take time. When I balk, typically I’m feeling a sense of fear. Once I identify I’m in a “fear” situation, I then need to know why. Most often, I realize I have not set up a timeline and a strong enough plan for completion of the project.

A book may be completed quickly, efficiently, and passionately, or it may be an excruciating chore. Most often, the choice is ours as writers. Our minds love to trick us. Our mind loves to jump us all over the place, chase the squirrels, play the “monkey mind” soundtrack which drives us nuts. Distraction can be a sign you fear something.

Remember, we are bombarded and controlled by fear. Our media, our politicians, our corporations, all learned long ago that fear controls and guides the masses. I cannot tell you how many writers I’ve met who won’t write their books because they fear someone will steal their work. I tell them no one wants their book until it shows some movement and success. Does theft happen? Yes. Should fear stop you? No.

If you cannot handle the fear, get out of the haunted house of your mind. Play somewhere outside yourself where it’s safe and you can criticize and judge others. Once you enter into the world of your own mind and purpose to create something, then you must deal with your inner demons. Your fears will likely manifest. Some writers don’t hit the fear button until they get to marketing. Others begin in the first draft. Most fret before they’ve even written a word.

The issue is not that you possess the fears. The issue becomes how you deal with them. The more definitive your action to overcome fear, the better. Each writer must deal with this aspect of their chosen craft in their own, personal manner. The crazy thing about all this fear stems from the fact most of them are not rooted in writing to begin with. Most fears spring up from our youth. We’ve simply perpetuated them situationaly as we aged.

My post last week spoke of this. I’ve tracked some of what I fear with respect to writing back to childhood traumas. Amazing how something happens to you at such an early age and you carry it with you for life without recognizing that’s what you’re doing. I believe if I chased down all my fears to their beginnings, I would accomplish nothing in life. Sometimes, though, the benefit of tracing fears back to their roots far outweighs the time and energy spent on the introspection.

Ultimately, whatever holds you back from writing your book is – you. For some reason, you will not step into the writing. Whatever you identify as the reason you don’t write has something attached to it. Trace this. Trace it back to its origins. What you will often find is other things are attached. Follow them back to their beginnings. Keep following the strands until you gather an understanding of what holds you back. My experience says this is often a fear from some experience in your young life.

If it’s a fear of “doing it wrong” (which is a load of crap from my perspective in writing your book), you’ll likely trace this back to something as obsequious as getting whipped for not making your bed properly or some varying level of atrocity at a very young age. Teachers were great at telling you things you did “wrong” back in my days in school. Some of that gets carried forward. Critical parents. Critical relatives. Critical friends. Critical bosses.

As a writer, I loathe structure. I rebel against staid rote. I fight against vanilla, mainstream writing. Yet I fear stepping into the outer boundaries of extremism. I need to go there at times. The bottom line comes down to the question of whether I will push the envelope or not. The envelope being of “MY” making, not anyone else’s.

While I do hate structure, I’ve found there to be a time and place for it. Re-write and edit are obvious places where structure becomes important. Lately, I discovered I’m adrift again, with little focused direction, mainly due to my “non structure” mentality. I needed a “game plan” not so much for my writing, but my business.

When writing IS your business, you better develop a plan, any plan, even if it’s a bad one. Plans change. Being adrift lulls you into the stupor of depression. Then you have to fight your way out of the blues just to get back to the fact you should have set up a plan of direction for your business. Simple left-brained thinking, but something creative people skip because of the intimidating (read fear here) or boring (again, a form of fear) nature of setting up a business.

Confidence. Personal Confidence. This is something you must have as a career writer. There will always be someone writing “better” from your perspective. There will always be someone who disagrees with your approach. There will always be external forces which/who place barricades in your roads to success. The real demons, though, the ones who thwart you at will, are your own fears. Working through or with these fears will carry you forward. Developing some sort of plan will move you forward.

As you progress with your business plan, just like writing a book, you will adjust to the needs of the plan. So often writers find their book writing itself. Your “book business” should do the same. If there were a tried and true format for guaranteed success in writing, we’d all be doing it. The beauty of writing is that we each must find our way through the myriad fears we embrace too tightly only to come out on the other side of despair when we take possession of our future and purpose to work on ourselves.

Whatever extent we do so, defines our path in our writing journey. The cool thing about life is that we are all like snowflakes, no two exactly alike. Therefore our paths become this crazy, “Family Circus” comic strip adventure (ever see that comic with little Billy walking all over town just to get next door?).

Another cool thing about the writing life is that writers’ lives intersect often with other writers. This affords us special bonds with those who relate with our path. We all own different fears. We all embrace different experiences unique to us in that our reaction to the events which caused us fear were reacted to by our own individual emotional makeup.

Work on your fears. You don’t have to trace them back to your one-year-old self, but you do need to acknowledge them, understand them to the extent you may move past them, an then take the action necessary to do so. I’ve been all over the place in this post. I’ve followed a tiny sampling of the reality of fear in our lives. The fear train is comprised of many cars. We ride the train, the “fear express” or we opt to get off and catch some other train going where we more desire to be.

Recognizing we need to get out of our fear is the second most important step. The first is recognizing we’re on the fear express to begin with. Once we get those two epiphanies down, developing a plan and taking action become our keys. Often we take action first and simply hop trains only to find we’re on another fear express. Plans help. Action helps. Recognition helps.

Help yourself. Like we’ve been told by the gurus forever, face your fears. Recognize them. Make a plan to overcome their obstacle-laden ways, and take action. Develop confidence in yourself. You will need it!

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“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight or ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That’s what you wanted to write about, about what you didn’t know. So. What mysterious time and place don’t we know?” [Remember This: Write What You Don’t Know (New York Times Book Review, December 31, 1989)]” ― Ken Kesey

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“Poetry is the wailing of a broken heart―the etched sorrows of despairing souls. These artful words are an exclamation in rare colors expressed noiselessly on parchment. Poetry is the unheard cry of a flower, wilting. It is a humble, lucent tear shed with meaning. It is the lovely portrayal of ugliness and the bitter edge of sweet. Poetry speaks to the spirit by piercing understanding. It interprets all senseless truths―beauty, love, emotion―into sensible scrawl. Poetry is vague affirmation and bewildering clarification. Like the most poignant of emotions, we understand the essence but cannot adequately do it verbal justice, crippled by inherently weak tongues. A spiritual soothsayer, poetry is the closest thing to expression of feelings unutterable.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Making Wishes: Quotes, Thoughts, & a Little Poetry for Every Day of the Year

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“The other day, when I was deciding where to place a mountain range, how to make a river’s flow detour around underground stalactite caves, and what precise color to give the sky at sunset, I realized I was God… or an artist and a writer.” ― Vera Nazarian

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“Writing things was important, wasn’t it? Nakata asked. ‘Yes, it was. The process of writing was important. Even though the finished product is completely meaningless.” ― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

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“That is the mystery about writing: it comes out of afflictions, out of the gouged times, when the heart is cut open.” ― Edna O’Brien, Country Girl

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