Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Facing Fear

"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?

Just write.

Forget about everything else.

Just write.

Theresa

17 comments:

Genella deGrey said...

Thank you.

Sometimes we just have to hear (or read in this case) the words.

:)
G.

Anonymous said...

It just seems a little extreme for anyone to have to resort to such measures to work through a difficult scene or to stretch the boundaries of their comfort zone.

JewelTones said...

You don't have to write something brilliant.

*sigh* And there's my issue. LOL. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself about that. Constantly thinking the words themselves just aren't good enough, that there's a "better" way to write it, that everybody else's writing is so much... more than mine. And that kicks up road block after road block because, let's face it. A string of words is a string of words and stuff like, "You look beautiful," he said. is exactly the same no matter *who* writes it. *G* I'm really trying to get beyond that.

Lately all my writing has been scary because it all feels so different. I'm delving into my first offical paranormal romances. I'm eyeing a series of short contemporary novels that really focus on the evolution of their relationships without a mystery or guns or bombs or dangerous action. Eeeeeek! So much change! ...all the while still waiting for the full I have on request that will help me know if I'm approaching the storytelling in a way that'll even interest anybody.

{{{crickets}}}

Yeah.

No pressure.

....

ROOM SERVICE! ;)

JT

Xenith said...

This is only a first draft. It's okay. You can screw it up to the worst degree possible, and it doesn't matter.

It's not as easy to do this when it's the "final draft" & I'm adding in a new scene :(

Liane Gentry Skye said...

I love this post. :)

Edittorrent said...

Xenith, is it the first pass at this new scene? Then it's still new material.

JT, are you feeling this tension with a first draft or when you're editing?

Theresa

JewelTones said...

JT, are you feeling this tension with a first draft or when you're editing?

Getting into the project, so definitely first draft. By the time I'm in edit mode, I actually feel a lot better about the story because I usually try to not go back and work too hard on edits and revisions until I have the complete first draft of the MS completely done.

It's been a bit of a break between my current projects and my last one, so I'm trying to get back into the flow of things (like writing daily, etc). The hardest part for me, though, is always that starting point. If I can't get that first line and first scene to snap into place... it's an uphill battle from there. I'm *such* a plotter.

Lately it seems like I have characters but no plot for them... or a plot but no characters. I'm trying to get started on 2 different projects and the one just won't roll. I keep feeling like I'm forcing it. Like there's no voice to it. It's annoying.

JT

Xenith said...

Xenith, is it the first pass at this new scene? Then it's still new material.

This is what I tell myself, and in response I get, "Yes! That's the problem! It's not going to match the material around it! Fix it now!"

Then I take my exclamation marks away and pretend to work on another part of the manuscript, so when I'm not looking I can sneak in and start on the new stuff. :)

Lisette Kristensen said...

I'm with JewelTones on the pressure of writing it right. I have to constantly remind myself of Hemingways qoute, "The first draft is always s**t."

I also struggle with pysching myself out. An example, just finished reading a short story by Angela Knight. Great stuff and then I start the head games. Why can't I write like that? Why didn't I think of that? It's not till I remember that Angela has developed her voice and craft over time. I am still new, cut some slack and get back to it. Write and get better, be focused.

Am I alone on this?

Lisette

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Lisette, you're definitely not alone! My last manuscript was an exercise in anxiety peppered by a million overwhelming life crises. Worse, the more I read, the more I beat myself up for sucking so much LOL. So that's not just a beginner thing. I struggle with it every time I read my favorite authors.

P.S. The manuscript just went to contract. :) So the moral? Find your way to "the end". The rest will fall into place later.

JewelTones said...

Lisette, right there with ya on psyching yourself out. I don't do the "why didn't I think of that!?" thing. I'm usually pretty good at coming up with some neat stuff (though I admit lately the well of creativity has dust bunnies in it, which is frightening in itself), but you can't help but compare yourself to other people and their level. I always start to panic and think... it's boring. Too much backstory. Is the pace ok? Is there enough characterization? Do my characters seem real? Do you get to know them enough? Does the voice come through? Does.... GAH! All that will drive you crazy!

I keep telling myself, just write it! Get it done. Worry later. But I'm not doing very well with that right now. *sigh*

JT

Edittorrent said...

My safe place would, yes, be a hotel room with room service, but my requirements keep getting more....
A whirlpool tub. A fireplace. By the time I'm done, I will be too relaxed to write. :)
Alicia

Edittorrent said...

Anonymous, actually, weirdly, I used to have no fear. The better I get, the higher my standards, the more fear. Plus just more living, I think, builds up more reasons for-- and more ways to-- procrastinate and get all difficult.

Lately I've been telling myself, "Trust your craft." I know how to plot- I have to trust that if I don't get it right in the first go-round, I'll figure it out in revision.
Alicia

JewelTones said...

Alicia, you raise an interesting point about having higher standards the more you write. I do think that's part of it for me.

JT

Edittorrent said...

JT, yeah, I think the Inner Editor gets more insistent the higher your standards get!
Alicia

Writer and Cat said...

I would love to see you guys talk about that "I think this is good but it will never sell" fear from your quiz!

Edittorrent said...

@Liane. You were a steel magnolia through that whole process, and I love you for it.

@Jody. Markets change. And then when they're done changing, they change some more. I have an urge to write more -- maybe we should do a post on that.

@Alicia & JT. Not only that, but the more skilled you become, the more ways you can see to handle the same material. Just pick one and write it! You can always write it a different way later and compare the versions.

Theresa