This article originally appeared in the newsletter for the Los Angeles Romance Authors chapter of Romance Writers Of America in 2007. I feel it is even more appropriate since I nearly lost my life in 2019.
What are you afraid of?
This question came up in regards to writing during a recent chat between a handful of authors. The group was diverse, yet the discussion brought out a bevy of similarities. Some perceived themselves as frauds, fearing public exposure of their inability to write. Another worried making a mistake in their personal writing process—skipping a step in plotting for example—will lead to a complete failure. I considered these, but didn’t feel that pull in my gut. Then someone voiced my biggest fear.
What if I can recognize writing greatness but I myself am forever fated to churn out mediocrity?
Since I had cancer last year, I find the fear of not being read due to lack of publication lurking through my mind like a ponderous ogre. I had a brush with being a professional musician in a former life. The music style I wrote thirty plus years ago became popular only in the last 7 or so years. What if the stories I’m writing today are not considered marketable for thirty years? I’m forty-seven—I might not have thirty years left.
In an unrelated conversation about characters and their internal journeys, I was reminded of a book I dearly love. It’s Lady of Largest Heart by Betty de Shong Meador and contains the 4,300-year-old writings of the first poet of record. Lady is first a translation of poems written by a temple priestess. But second, the book has interpretations from a Jungian analyst giving the imagery pertinence within the scope of internal spiritual journeys. Knowing full well this might be a writing avoidance tactic I gave into temptation and took the book down from the shelf. I began to read.
My favorite passage contains a description of the goddess wearing a robe with the “carved out ground plan”—a drawing of the whole and perfected universe in which we live. Many religions use the phrase “as above, so below” to teach there is perfection in the whole we are part of, so there must be perfection within us. Not easy to believe when I view my writing after reading something wonderful by another writer. The inner critic works overtime in that area, at least for me.
As I read, one phrase which I had forgotten caught my eye. The robe the goddess wears is stained with fear. Not scented—stained—a laundry mistake I can’t get out. I sat there staring as the implication hit me.
Fear is not only universal, it’s an indelible part of the plan.
Storytellers are “what if” thinkers. We get ideas by asking, “what if such-and-such happened?” It’s only natural when pondering the unfolding story of our own lives we ask “what if?” about what happens next.
Instead of asking questions full of positive possibilities, though, we end up with negative questions highlighting our worst fears coming true. A vivid imagination provides luscious details and our mind readily accepts the result not as imaginings, but as an unwavering fact, even if only for a stressed out moment or two. When our work is rejected, or we read anothers work then compare it to our own, it’s easier to let the negative answers linger and take up residence in our hearts and imaginations.
I do this, but I want to break out of this. But, fear is part of the original plan. Am I doomed to a cycle of asking the wrong questions and getting some difficult to dismiss answers?
Only if I let the questions stand as they are.
As the discussion on fear continued, I embraced my need to turn it around. What if I added a positive phrase when I ask “what if?” and get negative answers? What if I asked one last question? What would happen if that question was this: What if my fears are groundless?
So what are you afraid of?