"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Today is the 76th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural address in which he said that famous line. It's as true today as it was then -- and no, I'm not talking about the economy.
There's been a running theme in my correspondence with authors in the past week or two. One friend is having trouble writing a "black moment" because she knows how emotionally difficult the scenes will be. Another can't seem to write the climactic scene in a story because, as she puts it, she's too inhibited to write it as it must be written. A third complains that she's so conventional that anything beyond a chaste peck feels like a mad adventure to her, but bores her readers who, these days, seem to want sex scenes that swing from the chandeliers.
Same story, different authors, different details. It all boils down to one thing: fear is creating a roadblock on their path through the story.
Let's talk about some tactics for getting past those roadblocks.
The first thing to consider is ways to make yourself feel as safe as possible while you're confronting the scary writing. For many writers, this means solitude and a dedicated space for writing which nobody else may touch. But is that what you need right here, right now? Perhaps you would feel safer if you knew your big, strong, wooly bear of a husband was in the next room, ready to protect you if the monsters in your laptop attack. Maybe there's safety in numbers, and you'd be better off in a crowded coffee shop for this particular task.
Or maybe you have to put as much distance as possible between yourself and everyone who knows you. Nothing will do but an isolated cabin in the country (my personal favorite) or a hotel room hideaway with room service (eh, Alicia?).
Decide what will make you feel safest, and then give it to yourself. You deserve it. Your writing deserves it. This very scary scene deserves it, too.
But that's really only the first step. Once you've created a safe place from which to write, you have to actually write. You have to get past the fear.
There's an old trick in meditation practice to help clear the mind of stray thoughts. Meditation is all about empty mind, but our minds constantly cough up little bits of thought. New practitioners get frustrated sometimes by this, and one common bit of advice is to disconnect from the thought. If it arises, let it float in front of you like a butterfly, separated from you, and then watch it float away, leaving nothing behind.
When you sit down to write a scary passage, and you feel that block that keeps your fingers from moving, take that feeling and put it on the table in front of you like a lump of modeling clay. Acknowledge it. Separate from it. Look in front of it to the keyboard, or behind it to the monitor. It's there, and nobody's trying to tell you it's not. If it's in your way, shift it to the side. Put it on the floor. Actually visualize yourself doing this, and then write something.
You don't have to write something brilliant. You just have to make the effort to write the scary scene. If it helps, promise a solemn oath to your lump of modeling clay that nobody except the two of you will ever see this first draft. Set yourself free of any expectations or demands, other than that you will generate words. That's your only goal when it's scary. Give yourself permission to be bold, dull, wild, silly, outrageous, non-linear -- you name it. And I mean that! You name it. What is it that you worry the result will be? Shocking? Embarrassing? Give yourself permission to be exactly that. This is only a first draft. It's okay. You can screw it up to the worst degree possible, and it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters right now is that you do not let the fear control you.
Later, after you've got a draft, you can edit it or throw it out and start over or show it to someone you trust (someone safe) if you choose. But don't worry about that in the beginning. Just write.
You hear that?
Forget about everything else.