The Fear Of Writing
The title of this post isn't entirely accurate. As far as I am aware, writers do not fear writing. What we fear is the exposure writing creates for us.
That probably sounds like a strange fear, but I promise you it's one every writer has faced. Self-doubt is a familiar concept in this age. Whether it's the way we look, the way we speak, the way we dress or the things we do for a living or hobby. We all suffer self-doubt at one time or another. It's an unfortunate part of the human condition.
What writers (and all artists) face is something a little different though. It's hard to explain, but I'll do my best.
The simplest way I can think of is to give you an example: This is the second time I have written this post. I was struck by inspiration to write on this topic and set about letting my fingers link to the creative part of my brain without the annoying blockage of my thoughts getting in the way. I wrote for twenty minutes, passionately and with conviction. I was proud of the words I chose, the message I delivered and how they came across. I was writing a piece about self-doubt and marvelling at my ability to avoid critiquing myself too strongly. In short, it was exactly what I wanted to say in the very best way I could say it.
Then I pressed the back button by accident.
All my words were gone. Pressing 'back' again, it turns out, was not a remedy. I actually cursed myself out loud for my own stupidity. Once I'd convinced myself I couldn't get back what I'd written I decided I would have to re-write. But I didn't.
Instead, I switched to a different program and started writing a new scene in a book. Now that might seem perfectly reasonable. After all, it was unlikely I could re-write the same words I'd already chosen and the inspiration that had burned inside was thoroughly doused by my mistake. So instead of having another go, I simply chose an option that allowed me to believe I wasn't giving up.
That's the strange thing about writers and artists. We judge ourselves through the perceived eyes of those who view our work. And we judge harshly.
It's taken me another twenty minutes to decide to try this post again and it's already started entirely differently than it did before. The rational part of me understands that's just the way things are, but the voice inside is yelling that this will never be as good as it was the first time around.
The phrase used by writers (and I'm sure in all sorts of other professions) is 'Imposter Syndrome'.
It's the feeling, or belief, that you are not good enough. That you are not a proper writer. It might be because you haven't been published, or because you're not as successful as another in your genre. It might be just because you can't imagine why somebody else would enjoy what you've created.
No matter the reason, it is the voice inside that constantly tells you what you're saying/doing/thinking is not good enough .
And for writers I think it is particularly bad.
That sounds like a bold statement coming from a writer, but I'll explain why I think so.
All artistic endeavours carry in them a part of their creator. It might not be obvious, but it's there. For me, every word I write bears a reflection of who I am. They're the manifestation of how I think, of my values and morals and memories and goals, all bundled into a single package.
That's a strange thought to take apart. When I write, I put myself on the page. I don't mean as a character. I mean my true self. The absolute entirety of the person I am. It's all there, the sum total of everything that makes me me.
And it's there for you, as the reader, to pick at, peruse, judge, criticise or praise.
That's a scary thing to open myself up to. Especially when the voice inside keeps on telling me what I've made is less than it should be.
Right now that voice is telling me I'm not explaining this the right way, so I'll try a different approach. Think about your life. Think about the people you know and the person each of them thinks you are. If you could ask them to tell you exactly who they thought you were, I expect each would have a different definition.
It's the same for all of us.
In my life I have several faces. The one my children know is different from the one their mother sees. That makes sense, after all, I'm their daddy, but I'm her lover. Of course those two personas will not be the same. But the face my partner sees is different from the one my friends know. And that again is not the same as who my parents think I am, or my former work colleagues or ex lovers.
Each person we know, everyone we meet, form friendships with, relationships with, those we like, love or hate; they all see us differently from each other. Partly because of the different interactions we have and partly becuase they are each individuals with their own thoughts and assumptions. But mainly, I believe, they each see us as a different person because we show each of them a different person.
Think on it for a moment. Does your wife or husband know the same you as your best friend does? Do your parents know the same you your children do?
Do any of them know the you that looks back from the mirror everyday? I know none of mine do.
And that's where the act of delivering something newly created into the world holds an extra level of fear for writers. Or at least, for me. When I write, I am on the page. All of me. Every face, every part, every secret and lie and wish and dream. All the fears and doubts and hopes. Everything I want the world to see and everything I want to keep forever to myself. It's all there. In the words I choose and the stories I tell. It might not be obvious, but it's there. Often it gets referred to as a writer's 'voice'. If I want to share my voice with the world I have to accept there's nothing I can do to hide who I really am. And I mean who I really am.
I don't know if all writers feel the same, because I am not all writers. All I know is how I feel and how to express the particular fear that grips me when I hit that button to share what I've made with the world.
The voice is still telling me this isn't right. It's saying I've made this sound too self-pitying, too dark and sombre. But the voice is only a voice. It's just a thought.
And that's why I'm writing this post. That's why I share my books freely with anyone who wants to read them. I have a choice to believe what the voice tells me, or to open myself up to you and face whatever I get back in return.
You might think that sounds daft, you might think it's brilliant. Right now I'm just sitting in a chair writing words that echo in my head as I type. Effectively, until I hit 'publish' this is just a conversation with myself and there's absolutely no way I can guess at what your reaction will be. I only have the voice of doubt to listen to and nothing it says is helpful.
But I want to finish on a lighter note. There are millions of books and works of art in the world. Millions of people have ignored that voice, or overridden it long enough to put themselves out there and our race is richer for their bravery. Imposter syndrome is a problem we all face in one way or another, but every single one of us has the strength to push past it if we try.
That's why I write. I love what I do. I love the freedom of letting my mind wander off and seeing the ideas it brings back from its travels. I may be considered a good writer, or a poor one, maybe even a great one.
The voice of doubt tells me I'll never be good enough. Imposter syndrome tells me I'll never be a proper writer. They're loud voices in my head.
The rest of me though has learned that I can ignore them. If I do, I can keep on learning new things. Keep on finding ways to be better at what I do. Keep writing one word after another and keep showing what I create to others so they can understand they're just as able to do the same. It isn't easy, but when you think about it, nothing ever really is.
That's the thing about self-doubt; it comes entirely from ourselves and we're the only ones who have the power to do anything about it.
I am a proper writer. People read the words I write. Some like them, others don't. But 'proper' and 'successful' aren't the same thing. I am a proper writer, not because other people tell me so, but because I tell myself. Every day. Every time I put words in a row.
I still don't think this version is as good as the first I wrote, but I'll get over that. One word at a time.
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