Making Happy #2: List-Style
Making Happy, Music Edition

Fear of Writing

On the message board for my Gift of Words class, we've been having an interesting discussion about writing, and about how being afraid makes writing hard. I'd written a long post, and then my computer decided to do the wonky thing it's been doing lately (just randomly, at unpredictable moments when I'm online, popping up with that spinning blue O which usually means "just a second" but in this instant means "hope what you were working on wasn't important because it is LONG GONE. Have fun with the Task Manager") and yeah: I lost it all. Which, in a weird way, is good because it prompted this blog post, which I am writing it in WordPerfect (yes, of course: I still use it) and, you know, saving along the way. A post that doesn't answer any of my students' questions, really, but just expounds upon my writing opinions.
A good friend of mine, who recently discovered my blog (as I am not in the habit of just spurting out "hey, did you read my blog today?" because, well, I don't want to seem bloggily desperate), asked me how long it takes me to write my entries. Some things I am able to get down fairly quickly, but most of my entries take quite a while. The writing goes something like this: I write a sentence, and then my internal editor (IE: you know, the voice that criticizes whatever creative endeavor you're attempting) pipes up. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, he says, or could you be more obvious/redundant/boring/mawkish/inelegant? So I backspace, and rewrite the sentence, and get a few words into the next, and IE pipes up again. Wow. All those years of education have really paid off for you, because I'm certain that idea couldn't be less obvious. On it goes, backspacing and rewriting and trying to ignore the IE, who is just as insistent: that might offend someone, you can't say that because what if your mom reads it!, what a dumb idea, no wonder you've got a pile of rejection letters.
Probably your IE says something completely different than mine. The specifics aren't important. (Like, right now my IE is saying Amy! Why are you writing this? You are a writing nobody. Why would YOU try to write about writing? Who would want to read what you have to say?) The important thing is trying to get past the IE to write the thing you want to write. Only, how do you do that? Here is what I know: All that the IE does is mimic back your own creative fears. When we do creative stuff, it is a mixed blessing. That happiness of finishing something, of having written, spiked through with the hard work of the task and the fulfilled fear: not quite good enough. Fear of failure gives your IE sarcasm and venom and piercing comments, because they are your comments, built on your fears. Fear of the Grammar Police. Fear of failing. Fear that this time, there won't be any words. Fear that whatever iota of talent you think you might posses isn't really talent but empty conceit. Fear that you'll say the wrong thing in the wrong way: offend someone, hurt someone, or, maybe the worst: sound cheesy.
How you grapple with your IE is to write anyway. It is just, it is just like doing a back flip on the balance beam. You stand there with only leather and wood as your support—4 inches of width 4 feet from the ground, and hello: you're in a leotard! practically naked! And you take a deep breath, you wiggle a bit until your toes and your heels are in the exactly correct position, and then despite the voice screaming don't do this, are you crazy, you're going to break your neck, you can't do it, you're not strong enough, you throw yourself backward. You flip. Sometimes you miss the beam completely. Sometimes you hit it with your shin or your elbow or your cheekbone; sometimes it's only your ponytail that keeps you from breaking your neck.
But sometimes you stick it.
And it's so awesome to stick it, awesome in the literal sense, full of awe—to stand there, toes gripping the beam, and know: I just did this amazing thing with my body, and I want to do it again. Right now. Jubilation and exuberance and euphoria make you take a step forward, find the magic spot for your feet, but before you throw yourself backward into the air, you are consumed with fear again, the fear very nearly overpowers your previous glee. Almost. But there is a second, right before you flip, when you are filled with knowledge: the falling wide, the bruised hipbones, even the times you land it, none of that is the point. The trying—no, the doing—is the point, and it's that knowledge that pushes you off the beam into a flip.
Writing is a back flip. It's scary mostly because it exposes you: inner thoughts, inner feelings, inner fears. And because sometimes it hurts. And because maybe someone---your team mates, the coach, your mom who sacrificed everything to get you that coach—is watching, and what if they laugh? It's crazy, throwing yourself out there in words, letting the world in on your ideas. In a sense, your IE is only trying to protect you by reminding you of how terrifying what you're doing really is. The only cure is to write anyway. Write despite the voice telling you you can't.
And, of course, learn everything you can. (It's much easier to land that back flip if you do it knowing some technique: don't twist your hips at all, and the trajectory isn't straight up or straight back but a sort of angle, and swing your arms down then fling them back up again as you jump.) Take the fear-of-sounding-cheesy fear. How it plagues me! I don't want to sound like a Hallmark card. (Much as I love receiving Hallmark cards in the mail, mind you.) That is one thing I love about my favorite writer (Atwood, of course!): she does this thing where her writing is spare and lean, without any emotive words—no "love," no "sooooo much," no "very,"—but the words she does use, and the way she uses them, evoke an emotive response. So, to avoid writing cheesy, I read other writers with an eye to see how they do it. I read poems because I love them but also because they are concentrated bits of language, miniworks in evocation. I practice: I try to write about, say, being sad without ever using the word. Or any of its synonyms. I read about avoiding sentimentality in writing (avoid cliches and worn-out language, strive for figurative language, use concrete details—the shoveled pathway—instead of vague generalities—love him so much—evoke sensory connection). I try to be honest, because sentimentality is based on nothing but vaporous emotion, not truth. I try to feel things in my life partly so that people can feel things in my writing. Most of the time, of course, I fail; I land on the mat instead of the beam, or I get just close enough to crack my toes on the wood. Maybe (probably) this metaphor is one of those times. But sometimes I manage to stick it: write something that conveys an emotion without dripping cheese.
Study, and work; also thought, concentration, dedication (which I abundantly lack). Writing well takes all of that, even though we want it to be easy. Maybe everyone wishes they could do a back flip, but only a few people will get up early to train, and practice even with bruises, and sacrifice their social lives. The rest of us sit on the couch eating almond M&Ms while watching the Olympics. In my experience, there's no getting rid of the fear, no getting that annoying IE to just shut the hell up. There isn't an easy way. There is only doing it, or not doing it.
There's writing, and there's not writing.
And I hope you'll flip. I hope you'll take the deep breath and then fling yourself backward into the unknown with only a ponytail and some hope to keep you in the air. Because when you are flipping, when you are writing and you've kept writing even though it's not perfect or maybe even not good or really, even, bad, and you're writing anyway, you eventually get to this place, with both feet in the air: a sort of creative flying. When you get there, the IE is silent, everything is silent, everything but what you are writing. Keep writing! That is how you best the fear. Write anyway.



Thank you Amy for being so honest.

Kary in Colorado

You are amazing Amy. I love reading what you write. Keep flipping.


I've got a quote from you tacked up on my wall near my computer where I can always see it when I write, "Fear is the ultimate betrayer of creativity." It's my favorite and it helps silence my IE, who by the way is extremely mean spirited and probably deserves to be thrown off a cliff! Great entry!


You will be happy to know... My gift to me and future generations this Christmas is to set a goal of writing in my journal EVERY day! I have an IE that has prevented me from writing multiple times in my journal for fear of who is going to read this when I am gone and find out... well how un-smart I am... LOL... what do I care what people think of me when I am dead... but I do... Hi, my name is Candace and I fear judgements!

I wish you were teaching again and could give me all of those journaling ideas again. I am a bit afraid that I will get stuck on what to write. Every day will be a challenge but I feel like it will truly help me be more expressive in all of my writing (such as scrapbooking, card signing, etc.).

Anyway, Thanks! I really appreciate you!


I love this, Amy! (Taking me a while to catch up on missed posts.)


Thank you! (from Aurora at your Textuality class)

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