Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blind Terror

I've been having a hard time putting into words my main takeaway from the SCBWI LA conference this past weekend.

It was from Laurie Halse Anderson's breakout session about living a creative life. She talked at length about the things we do in our personal lives that get in the way of our writing and how to manage it. This is something I really struggle with, so it was a very useful session. I'm probably going to type up some of the notes and keep them somewhere I can see them when I am wasting my very precious time farting around on the internet.

At the end of the session, as I was already feeling emotional from one of the most influential and amazing authors of our generation telling me all of the things I needed to hear about managing myself and giving myself the time I need to create, the topic of self sabotage came up.

Laurie said that we sabotage ourselves and our own progress out of fear.

And when she said that, I stopped breathing and I felt like I had been smacked and I swear, the floor opened up and swallowed me.

FEAR, you guys. FEAR.

I don't know, maybe this is obvious to everyone else, but when Laurie said this, it opened up this thing I had been holding close inside of myself, refusing to acknowledge.

I knew that there was some reason that the closer I get to finishing my WIP, the slower I go. That there was a reason that I seem to put more and more space between myself and the end of this book. I just never really thought too much about what it was or why, chalked it up to procrastination, and just kept going along at my slow pace.

But it turns out that




And the crazy thing is, I didn't even realize how scared I was. But since I left Laurie's session this past Friday, I have been on the brink of tears. I feel like I am going to have a breakdown at any given second. It's because I acknowledged the fear, I accepted that it was there, and now it is the only thing I can think about. It's like it is pulsing through my veins.

I can't shake free of it.

I'm trying to figure out WHAT I am scared of. Scared of sucking? Scared of rejection? Scared of realizing I'm not a good writer? Scared of being the only person who doesn't realize I'm not a good writer? All of these things? Something else?

I'm not sure exactly what I am scared of. I just know I am afraid down to my core. And it's keeping me from making progress.

If I don't have a completed and polished ms, I can't NOT get an agent. I can't NOT get published. I can't NOT succeed.

But I can't do those things, either.

So, I'm sort of at a crossroads right now. Last week I thought I was just a slow writer, but now I have realized that I have the FEAR. (Fear is what Laurie Halse Anderson said, but over the past few days I've spent with it, I'm realizing that it's more like BLIND TERROR.) When I was ignorant of the fear, I just kept plodding along, but now I am frozen.

I don't WANT to finish. And I am subconsciously doing things to keep myself from finishing. Because I'm scared.

I need to get over it. I need to face it and kick it in the balls and run past it when it's writhing around on the ground clutching its crotch.

I can't let it stop me.

But did I mention that it is more like BLIND TERROR? That shit is scary, yo.

So here I am, trying to figure myself out. Trying not to cry. Trying not to let it keep me from doing what I want to do.

But I don't know how to proceed.

Have any of you faced this? How do you deal? I really need to know what to do here.


  1. I am in the exact same place. In fact, I've been sobbing off and on since the conference. Total meltdown happening over here. I think it's a turning point for us though, I honestly do.


  2. My biggest fear is this: putting my heart and soul down in black and white, putting it out there for everyone to see, and having someone telling me it sucks. If my work sucks, doesn't that mean I suck since it's an extension of me? My beta reader (and the best person in the world for my writing) is telling me that it doesn't. But what if we're both wrong? Does that sound stupid?

  3. Same here. Her blog post asked who really benefits from me not finishing my book, and obviously it's me: it's much easier to complain about the book than it is to not sell it and start all over again.

    I wish I had more advice besides "power through" and "be kind to yourself," but that's all I've got right now. *links arms in solidarity with Jessica and Casey*

  4. *and Jen, who posted while I did*

  5. I'm terrified too. Why do you think I haven't worked on my WIP in months? Compared to all you girls in the group I KNOW I don't measure up so I've been stuck in this "why bother" mentality and even though I eventually want to finish, it just remains this semi-cool idea I had and I can't screw it up.

    I'm also scared shitless about something else that only 2 other people in this world know and I'm about to try for a re-do and I've been having major anxiety over it that all I want to do is avoid it and curl up in a ball and sob like a baby.

    Knowing these things ups the fear and it's so hard to work through but all you CAN do is work up to being able to kicking it in the balls and it is scary as hell

  6. I know that fear well.

    Just making the commitment to write one page a day is the only way I can conquer it. And I might be a slow writer as well--but slow and steady. Rather than crank out seven pages in one day (and angst the other six days of the week), I just slog out my one, but I do it every single day.

    My fear gets worse when I approach the end of a book. "What if it isn't good and I've put all this time into it?" if it's bad or if it's good, "What if I'll never find anything else to write again that is worth all the time?"


    But know that you are not alone.


  7. Oh, yes. The Fear. I somehow didn't feel this until I sold my book. And then I grew so terrified I could barely move. Like you, I'm not exactly sure what I'm scared of, but I am. Down to my core.

    I sometimes have to summon up bravery when I write, but I've decided The Fear is what makes it amazing. If it were easy, I wouldn't love it as much as I do, and if I weren't scared, than maybe I'm not putting enough passion into what I write. The Fear challenges us to do our best work, and as long as we don't let it paralyze us in the process, I think that's a really fantastic thing.

    Best of luck finishing the WIP. You can absolutely do it! :)

  8. i face this all. the. time. and because i'm doing my creative thing in the context of school, it just causes me to procrastinate to the point that at the end of the semester, i've just got a promising but underdeveloped project. if it's underdeveloped, no one can critique it that much cuz well, there's not that much to talk about. and it's made me really sad because i didn't get to grow and push myself as much as i should have while paying for this degree and taking time out to go back to school.

    i'm afraid of succeeding & all the extra pressure and expectations that will come with that. i'm afraid of failing, on the other hand. i'm afraid of being mediocre. and i'm afraid of disappointing myself and others' expectations (many of which are imagined). so yeah, i just can't win.

    the times i start to get over this are the times when i am able to just show up every day and do SOMEthing without judging myself. it will be bad the first few times, so the more i do/make, the more i have a chance to redesign and make better once it's there and on paper. but these times of good flow are still really far and few between for me...and i've been doing this since i was like 15. sigh.

    still learning my working process and practice, and i know one day i'll be able to accept the bad parts like fear, and just acknowledge that it's part of the process.

  9. ((((hugs)))) I am dealing with this right now in trying to get myself STARTED on a project. The longer I spend NOT writing, the longer the book is this great ephemeral thing with endless potential. Once it's written it has flaws and is lacking and needs hundreds of pages of rewrites.

    I know you can conquer it Jessica, and definitely know that you're not alone.

  10. I think I am right there with you! As long as I don't finish my manuscript, I won't query. Which means I won't get rejected. Which means there is still this HOPE that my story is good!

  11. I have the same thing. The whole college student/teacher candidate thing is a convenient excuse to not write but...well, what am I doing right now? I have more than a month before I start school or work again, and I'm not really doing anything. I haven't opened my Word document in a couple weeks. I feel like right now I like the idea of my novel better than the actual thing, because I'm afraid of it sucking and not doing the idea in my head justice and all that...

    But it'll suck even more if I don't write it. *nods*

    Anyway, I'm joining all the other people who have commented on this post already in showing solidarity =)

  12. You can do it! You're going to get past that fear, finish your book, and send it out. And then you're going to start another one. I have faith in you.

  13. I so understand it, and I think I've fallen into it since I got all rejections on my first batch of queries. I say i'm waiting for WriteOnCon, for feedback, for...what?

    For the fear to go away.

    But I'm going to make it, because at the moment writing feels like the only thing I can succeed at... providing I don't fail...

    *joins chain of solidarity*

  14. You know from my email earlier this week that I totally know the fear too. I'm almost at the end of my first draft and I am hemming and hawing and inventing excuses not to finish.

    I'm not sure what the cure is other than to keep writing even when it's scary. It also sure helps to have crit partners and writing groups that can talk us off the ledge when things get hard and push us and remind us why we started this crazy writing thing in the first place.

    I know you can do it, even though it's scary.

  15. This is an amazing revelation and one to which I can relate whole-heartedly. I actually have finished with a work but now I'm terrified of letting anyone read it. This is a peculiar place to be in and I don't like it all that much. I have no idea how it will feel to get a bad review and I think that this is inevitable. Sigh. Thank you for posting this. It has given me a lot to think about.

  16. Thanks for writing this. As you can are totally not alone.

    PS- You are an awesome writer. Given the response to this post, I hope you'll be able to see what so many others can. :-)

  17. I've felt this way before. Back when I first started putting myself out there for photography, I felt dumb. Like, what the hell am I doing? What the hell do I KNOW? Is this just another expensive hobby?

    Lame as it is, I thought of a few quotes at the time.

    "Jump, and a net will appear."
    "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?"
    "In order to succeed, your desire for success needs to be greater than your fear of failure."
    "Hard work weighs ounces. Regret weighs pounds."

    Yeah, these are all lame-o, but at the end of the day, I just didn't want to have regrets! I never wanted to look back and think, "What if...?" Go for it, Jessica, you have a passion and a talent!


    Like Sarah, I'm currently experiencing all kinds of terror at the thought of starting a new project. Will I be able to finish? Is this idea even worth spending months and months of my life on? Will the story be any good? Will my agent go for it? And so on, and on, and on...

    A few weeks ago I saw Eileen Cook at a signing and she shared a little story from her past about a friend who pushed her into submitting her writing to agents. The friend said: "You ARE an unpublished writer. The worst that will happen after submitting is that you will STILL BE an unpublished writer."

    That really sunk in with me. The only person who suffers when I procrastinate and wimp out is me.

    Anyhoo, I hope you're back to feeling better soon. And truly, you are SO not alone!

  19. I don't know how I missed this post yesterday, but I could have written it myself. I'm a champion procrastinator and I recently figured out it's fear that makes me avoid my ms. I'm working on a new WiP so the excitement of a new project is still here, but already I feel the fear of not being able to make it good enough to publish.

    I hope you're better soon and know that there is a lot of people who are battling the same fear. Take care!

  20. I have no doubt that we'll see your books on shelves in the future, none at all. It sounds like you are on top of things, you are well-read and well-informed on the process and full of motivation, and I believe you will succeed. Just bite down on that fear and barrel ahead!

  21. I think writing is a scary thing! You're putting so much of yourself out there and saying, "Look! I made that!" And then you shrink back into a corner waiting for the world to end. Or people to laugh. (They are about the same.)
    I'm proud of you for acknowledging your fear! I know that I was scared to show my writing to a friend for the first time. A FRIEND. It's even scarier showing it to people you don't know. But it does get easier! Keep on keeping on, Jessica. :)

  22. I totally understand what you're feeling. I'm definitely scared of what will happen when I finish my book and send it out. I'm also scared of my dream pf being a full-time published writer not coming true. The only thing you can do is keep writing. I'm rooting for you!

  23. Can you feel the love? I sure can through all of these comments. We're all right there with you, honey.

  24. This is SO me. And it hurt to read it. We'll see what I do with this new nugget of self-knowledge.

  25. Unfortunately I couldn't make it to the conference, but I wish I could have been there for this session. Your post struck such a cord with me because I've been struggling with the same thing. I've been sitting on a rewrite for almost a year, always finding other small projects that "just had to be done." A dear friend finally sat me down and told me I was afraid. I had the same bursting into tears moment because I knew she was right. I still haven't figured out how to get past it, but I'm working on it.