Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fear and the Writer

Writing is a journey. Don't be afraid to venture out there
into the wilderness... (Photo D. Mills)
As much as writers love to - need to - write, it's amazing how often we find ways to avoid the job.

I've been thinking about what keeps me from writing. For some reason, this summer, with all this free time at my disposal, I dither and resist and find so many other things to do.

I could be writing. I should be writing. I want to be writing.

I’m not writing.

It might be fear. Let me explain.

A long time ago, when my first novel was out and about, a reviewer trashed it.

It was a novel for young readers, and I received tons of positive mail from readers – many of whom were students reading the book in their English class – who loved it. I loved it. Writing that book and sending it out into the world was like raising a child and watching it toddle off, away from me, unprotected. (You just hold your breath and hope everyone likes it).

But this reviewer – who, at the time, had no children and was in no way associated with children’s books or literature (I know this because I did some internet creeping and checked her out) – found a cute way to dis my book. She said it was “flow-charted”, which I take to mean predictable. She said it was contrived. She said it was earnest. Basically, she said it sucked.

I was paralyzed for weeks. Couldn’t write a word. I felt like a complete failure, despite the fact that letters were still arriving and sales were still being rung up (in fact, I received royalties for years).

Even though that reviewer wasn’t influential or worth worrying about, I was deeply affected. One day a few weeks later, I showed the review to my husband. He read it and shrugged.

“So? She didn’t like your book.” (He’s an engineer. Perhaps that explains his response).

But hearing him say that helped a lot. She didn’t like my book, and she made a public case for not liking it, but so what? People were obviously still reading and enjoying it, so why should that review matter to me?

I was able to write again, eventually, but I carry that Mean Reviewer on my shoulder all the time now. She's peering at my words, pointing, and saying "Flow-charted! Contrived! Earnest!"

Maybe that’s why I haven’t been writing. Fear.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m lazy. That’s certainly a possibility, thanks to the incredible pace I normally operate at during the year. My job (editing and writing for a national sports organization) is demanding during the winter and sometimes involves travel as well as dealing with deadlines and people who don’t understand deadlines. (Enough said). My home life, up until this year, has involved driving my kids to school and operating around the schedules of everyone else but me. Like most mothers, I put myself at the bottom of the ladder and put everyone else’s needs first.

Which, as every mother knows, keeps the ship going, but is exhausting.

So I’m tired. I’m lazy. The deck and a good book beckon. My brain is fried. I don’t have any stories in me.

And yet…

Ideas are burbling, percolating, wafting in and out. There’s this girl, and she’s a little bit different, and one day this boy walks into her school and he’s a bit different too. But no, it’s not as simple as that. And it’s not a typical teenage love story.

Can I make it work? Fear says no. Laziness says it’s going to take way too much work.

But that girl is in my head. She’s talking to me.

I'm very afraid that...

I’m going to have to write something.