Friday, January 04, 2013

Writing: Author's Fear

I'm rereading Lawrence Block's excellent book, The Liar's Bible. This, and its companion book, Telling Lies For Fun And Profit, are among the most enjoyable yet educational books for writers that I've ever encountered. They are actually a series of columns Block wrote for Writer's Digest, and sprinkled among the other segments are lessons you'll rarely hear from a writer.

For example, in his chapter on "Fear Of Writing," Block quotes Gloria Steinam as explaining the three tests of writing that make her absolutely certain she is a writer: 1) when she's doing it, she never feels she should be doing something else, 2) it's a source of satisfaction and occasionally of pride, and 3) it's terrifying!

Gotcha! I'll bet that all the writers in the audience were nodding with numbers 1 and 2, but had to step back and think about number 3. Perhaps Steinam, Block, and I are the only writers who feel this way, but I doubt it. When I started writing one of my books, I thought I had a perfectly great idea for a plot that would carry the reader through to the end. But the further along I was in writing it, the more I worried--make that feared--that I was barking up the wrong tree. Finally, after input from two editors and my first reader (my talented wife, Kay), I decided they were right, so I made a significant change  that, although it required work on my part, made it one of which I'm proud.

For weeks and months I was afraid that either I wouldn't be able to finish the book I was writing, or when I did, it wouldn't be a good one. Show me a writer who really cares about his or her craft, and I'll show you someone who, at one time or another, has had the same fear. But how many of them will publicly admit it? Block does, and offers advice on handling it.

To put it in broader perspective, James Scott Bell recently tweeted this quote: "Anything I've ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death." - Betty Bender 

Is there something you do that is enjoyable, a source of pride, and sometimes fills you with fear? I'd love to hear.


Kelly Himes said...

Very interesting! I do believe I understand, as I feel similarly to the work a pianist friend and I do together. We have an absolute blast in rehearsal and in most performances, but I can never get too far away from the opposing feelings of anxiety about it and totally loving it!

Thanks for such an insightful and fun post.

Richard Mabry said...

Kelly, Maybe the anxiety is God's way of keeping us humble. I recall the story of the well-known actor who threw up before taking the stage for every performance. I guess I'd take some apprehension so long as it didn't reach visceral level.
Thanks for your comment.

Ramona Richards said...

First - I adore Lawrence Block. Now I've got to get these books! Second - I think most writers feel terrified when they write, for any number of reasons. I also suspect it's why some folks never finish that great book they started. It takes guts to persevere in the light of that fear.

Richard Mabry said...

Ramona, Well-said. There are lots of things I've done in life that scared me to death, but I'm glad I did them. And, for me, at least, the fear that I'll fail or won't be able to produce persists with every novel I write. These just aren't the things that we reveal in public.
Thanks so much for your comment.