Tag Archives: fear

Good Enough? Part One

I’ve written how analyzing can be paralyzing. Perfectionism can be a similar paralytic.

As a perfectionist, I don’t want to do something if it will only be good, not great. When the bar is set at perfection, it’s often hard to even try. It can stop me before I get a chance to start.

It can also paralyze me before the task is complete. How? It’s hard to view the task as ever complete, because it can always be improved. I agonize over every detail, looking for imperfections to correct, never satisfied to call it “done.” A 400-word project turns into hours of rewrites and hand-wringing, wondering if anything else has been missed or could be more aptly phrased.

Yes, I have issues. For now, let’s focus less on this second issue and more on the “stop before we start” aspect. As I work to build a house for myself in the neighborhood of writing, it is this side-effect of perfectionism that threatens to destroy my cottage before the blueprints are dry. What if what I build turns out to be a disaster area? A money pit? Or, (perhaps worse) what if it’s ok, but not wonderful?  The perfectionist in me trembles at the thought of being a good writer, not a great writer. Is it worth trying?

If I decide yes, I must face scary thought number two: Am I worthy? Once I break ground and start construction, can I call myself a resident of Writersville? How complete must my little cottage be to claim residence? Surely something must be done to earn this status. Do I need to prove myself worthy somehow? At what point am I good enough? What must be done before I can answer “What do you do?” with a confident, “I’m a writer.”

Is any of this resonating with you? Maybe you aren’t a perfectionist, but something else holds you back or paralyzes you. It may have nothing to do with writing either, but have an affect on some other aspect of your life. If you face similar struggles, I hope the rest of this post, and Part 2 to follow, help untie your knots, just as these truths have begun to loosen mine.

As I face these fears and ponder these perfectionistic tendencies, I have stumbled upon some encouraging words.

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” – Robert Cormier

This clashes a bit with my perfectionism. Is Cormier really claiming it’s ok to get it less than perfect? Yet, it’s true. Writing can always be improved, and that’s ok. If my wordsmith skills fail to turn a phrase properly, it has less consequence than the improper turn of a surgeon’s scalpel. What’s the big deal? I should accept the need for rewrites and the occasional bad idea. I should accept the fact that I won’t get it right every time and, the first time, I usually won’t. (I apologize to all perfectionistic brain surgeons reading this. I realize this is no help in your struggles.)

A quote from the King (of writing, not rock ‘n roll) helped cut through my insecurities of worth. In the blunt style he uses throughout On Writing, Stephen asks on page 235:

“Do you need someone to make you a paper badge with the word WRITER on it before you can believe you are one?”

Ok. I get it. I suppose I can call myself a writer if my work has not reached the best-seller lists and Kerry Nenn is not a household name. I suppose I can write even if my work is less than perfect. I can do my best, and continue to strive to do better. While everything I write will not be great, I will keep practicing and improving my craft. I suppose I can do all of this if I never accomplish more than the blogging and freelancing I am doing this week.

With these thoughts in mind, my desire is to no longer fear failure, imperfection, or unworthiness. These are unwelcome guests in my home, and I have decided to evict them. As I work on building and improving my writer’s cottage, I confidently say:

I am a good writer, hoping to some day be a great writer.

 

Read Part 2

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers: #1 – FEAR

fear

If you asked me what it’s like to finally pursue my dream of writing, the honest answer is: Terrifying.

Yes, there is excitement and delight, and many other things weighing in on the positive side, but, the scale is often tipped by the heavy burden of fear.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t dream of being a writer some day. “Some day.” A fellow writer recently told me that is a dangerous term. I agree. Part of what kept me in that Some Day mode was fear. A dream tucked away since kindergarten can be hard to finally pursue. As long as it’s just a dream, it’s still a possibility. It hasn’t been taken out in the world, soiled, rejected, or broken. If I never let it live, it can’t die.

As I reached my thirties, I finally came to the realization that I would have to take those risks. If I never let it live, it would not be alive. I decided to make the first steps down the writing path.

Step 1: Face It

We must stare straight into the mouth of this monster and see what lies there:

“Everyone will hate it. No one will ever publish my writing. I am not qualified to be a writer. No one will understand what I’m trying to say. My shining ideas will never be on paper what they were in my head. Everything I try to write will share the aroma of my cat’s litter box. I’m destined to fail.”

The old hag is right. They’re lies – all lies! These fears, laden with lies, blossom in our minds until we have an entire garden of ghoulish mental monsters that prevent us from pursuing our passion. We become paralyzed by fear. All the What Ifs keep us frozen in place, and we fail before we even start because we fail to start. After all, as long as it’s just an idea, it can’t fail. No one can reject it. It can’t flop. It can’t turn out poorly. It’s this intangible brilliance that lies untainted in my mind. Untainted, but also untapped. Safe, but of what use?

Perhaps we do get started. Then perfectionism pops into play. We write, and rewrite, and rewrite again. We reread for the 42nd time and it’s still not quite right. It’s just not perfect. We stall out. We never put our writing out there because it’s not quite ready for others to see. It’s not good enough to share with the world. Just a few more changes, then it will be ready. Our attempts to create perfection keep us in a dizzying loop of editing and nailbiting that results in frayed fingers but nothing shared. What If I could make it better still? What If I’ve missed something? In our efforts to make it worthy of the world’s eyes, no one ever sees it. (Don’t ask me how many times I reread and rewrote this paragraph.)

We keep telling ourselves these lies. They feed our fear and help it grow big, strong, and loud. The What If track blasts on repeat in our upstairs radio until we can hear nothing else. The dances with Perfectionism and People Pleasing keep us spinning in circles. I suppose these two things have their place somewhere in our lives, but more often than not they are unhealthy. They become stumbling blocks in our path to be productive writers. They lead us to a litany of What If questions, and that track never stops playing:

What if I write something that just plain stinks? What if I think it’s good but not everyone likes it? What if publisher after publisher rejects me? What if someone misinterprets my writing? There’s plenty more along the same line of thinking, but a blog post can only be so long. So, let’s just get right down to finally answering those basic What If questions instead of just fretting over them. This is step two.

Step 2: Embrace It

YES! The answer to most of those What Ifs is a resounding yes! Yes, those things are going to happen. At some point, each of these will come true to some degree. Guess what? That’s ok. We aren’t perfect. Our world it not perfect. As imperfect people, we are destined to imperfect writing. We have NO chance of pleasing everyone. If we write enough, and submit enough, we will surely be misunderstood, criticized, rejected, and more. Embrace the inevitable.

This doesn’t mean we believe the lies. A rejected manuscript does not mean we are a reject. Failure to publish an article doesn’t mean we are a failure. If not everyone likes our writing, it doesn’t mean everyone hates us. If our path doesn’t look like another writer’s, it doesn’t mean we aren’t a writer, or aren’t worthy of that title. Messing up doesn’t mean we are a mess. If we produce a flop, we don’t have to forever forfeit our writer’s card.

Creative souls can be a bit overdramatic. Let’s be realistic with ourselves. What really happens when these inevitabilities strike? Are we forced to wear an F on our shirts to let everyone know we have failed? Do we have to stop writing? Stop dreaming? Stop living? It’s highly unlikely that any of the What If’s we toy with are actually that serious. Ego-threatening, yes. Life-threatening, no.

What do we do?

Step 3: Chase It

Chase your dream. Chase your goals. Chase your passion. Chase away this monster. Chase away the sin of Fear. By running headlong into the fray, we sprint away from fear or mow it down in our path. Either way, this sin no longer blocks our way.

Once you’ve divulged your doubts and embraced the inevitables, Fear becomes fear and is easier to hurdle. You can acknowledge the risks, and run on this path anyway. Yes, you will get bruised, but at least you got off the park bench. Go ahead, stretch your muscles. Test your talents. Start feeding those instead of that What If monster. Who knows where it will take you? Maybe you won’t come in first, but it’s better than missing the race entirely.

Yes, you’ll most likely hear the recurring classics: Gonna Fail Now, Baby; Gotta Please the People; and Gettin’ Almost Perfect. They are catchy tunes that easily get stuck in our heads. But…it’s time. Time to face the music.  Turn off the tune. Starve the monsters. Fill our heads with creative ideas, writing goals, feedback, research, contests, queries…even blog posts. The fear will not simply dissipate one day. We have to DO something. Get something else playing, going, churning, burning, chasing our thoughts and spurring us into action. No more Some Day. To-day.

The Fear chaser I keep in my mind is this truth:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

We are not alone as we stare down this sin. We do not have to let this Deadly Sin bind us. The Lord is with us as we pursue our dreams and feel pursued by fear. Chase? Yes. But also run – straight to a loving God who can chase away our fears and give us the desires of our heart.

My desire is to continue to write whatever God puts in my heart, that stirs my mind, that drives my hand to the page. He has instilled in me this passion that I no longer want to leave still. With God’s help, I will continue to be more than a conqueror in this battle with Fear.

In fact, it’s time to click the publish post button now.

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Coming soon – Deadly Sin #2 – SLOTH – If I’m not too lazy to write it.

 

 

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers

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One Fish Two Fish Read Fish Blue Fish. It wasn’t long after this stage of reading that you began dreaming of writing your own clever yarn. You found the place Where the Sidewalk Ends and could not wait to compose your own prose. Since those Berenstain Bears days, you’ve had the itch to craft a story, tell a tale, smith some words.

You’ve scribbled notes, started journals, maybe even typed a few pages. Perhaps you’ve shared a poem or two with the fam, or told some stories to your kids. Or, quite possibly, the dream never even got that far. You’ve simply loved the idea of writing and spent years dreaming of writing ideas.

The problem is, the ideas never left the mental attic. The dust there is as thick as a Michener tale. You’ve tucked them away with the blanket statement “maybe someday.”

Why?

What is the roadblock on this journey to author status? What makes us stumble when we do venture onto the writer’s path? What is it we must battle?

Seven. Seven roadblocks. Seven stumbling blocks. Seven monsters out to gobble up our pens and pages and spit them in our faces.

As writers, we face Seven Deadly Sins.

Each offers unique temptations, traumas, and terrors. Some you may have already encountered. Some await on the trail ahead. Some will sneak up from behind, no breadcrumbs needed to find you. None get us where we need to go.

Over the next few weeks, I will define, dissect, and offer ways to destroy these Seven Deadlies.

We’ll first tackle the one that seems most rampant. It stops us dead in our tracks. We never even shake the dust off those ideas, much less pursue the life of writing we’ve long desired.

Why? We’re afraid.

Deadly Sins for Writers #1: FEAR

Watch for this post coming soon – if I’m not too scared to write it.