Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 2, 2012

The Fear Factor

Welcome to the first Monday of the month, when we are lucky to share in the wisdom of contributing blogger Shannon Donnelly. Her post today will help get you writing this summer, despite your fears.

by Shannon Donnelly

"I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation." – Stephen King

Fear shows up in a number of ways, and hits each of us differently. It shows up a lot in the only workshops I teach.
•It shows up in excuses (I’m too old, I’m too busy, I won’t try this because I don’t understand).
•It shows up in procrastination (I’ll catch up later, I’ll try the exercises after the class on my own).
•It shows up in perfectionism (I’m awful because I didn’t do this right, I failed, I suck, I’m stupid).
•It shows up in a refusal to try new things (I’ll post this old story bit instead of writing anything new).

And I can see it every single time.

Then we have the brave souls who face their fears, dive in and fall on their faces. I applaud that. Because they’re learning. Which is the point of a workshop. It’s supposed to be a safe place to try things, to experiment. Instead, I see so many writers who are afraid to spread their wings—as if one mistake is going to be a disaster.

Folks—we learn from our mistakes. Go out and make more of them.

I am amazed how many people resist this idea. They want to be praised. That’s not good. That’s not going to help you learn. What does help is the rewrite and the revision and the experiment. Try something new. Write a scene. Then rewrite it from a different viewpoint. Just because. Throw stuff out there. Try something in first person if you’ve never done first person. Or in present tense. Just try it out. Tell yourself that:
a) it doesn’t have to be perfect
b) it doesn’t have to be good
c) it can actually be really awful
Just let it be what it’s going to be.

Then read (aloud so you catch what you’ve really done) what you’ve written and look at what you can learn from what you did. Look at what works. Look at what doesn’t work. Keep the good stuff.

This happens when I cook, too. I’ve made some awful things—I once put too much baking soda into my gingersnaps. They came out Alka-seltzer hockey pucks—hard and fizzy if you chewed on one. Great for your digestion (if you needed it), and not something anyone would eat (not even the horses would go for them, despite the sugar on the outside). Learned a great lesson on baking soda from that one.

Same applies to my writing. I’ve written awful scenes (and I expect I’ll keep doing that). Sometimes the dialogue clunks like a flat tire. I’ve tried first person, third, second, even. Present tense, past tense—it’s all about stretching those writing muscles and trying new things. You don’t know what really works until you’ve tried it.

I’ve written books that are not for everyone (go read the reviews)—sometimes folks hate my character (hey, it’s better than indifference). And I worry about all of it. I still get the nerves going and I still wonder if I’m any good at any this—no amount of praise ever takes that worry away.

The point of this is you’re never going to get over your fear.
Live with it. Know it’s there. Let it flow into you and out of you again and go write anyway. Use the fear—let it keep you sharp. Let go, too, of the affectations that King talks about—which means get out of the way of your characters. Let them tell you their story and stop pushing them into plots that don’t work. Stop being so damn writerly and just get clean words onto the page.

And if you need more good words from Stephen King buy his book On Writing: Memoirs of a Writing Career. Or read more at: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/StephenKingWriting.htm

Shannon Donnelly's writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her latest Regency Historical Romance, Paths of Desire, can be found as an ebook, along with her Regency romances, now available from Cool Gus Publishing. She has had novellas published in several anthologies, has had young adult horror stories published, and is the author of several computer games.

Shannon is a regular speaker at writing conferences, and will be speaking at the 2012 RWA  National conference in Anaheim. She gives online workshops and is the author of Story Telling; Story Showing, an ebook that compliments her popular online class Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop.

She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at sd-writer.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.

We've written a lot about fear this year at Writers in the Storm. Laura Drake and Fae Rowen had a throwdown about their fear of not succeeding vs. fear of success. Two weeks ago Laura wrote about letting your characters deal with their worst fears. Now is the time to share yours, if you haven't already. Or if you've discovered more. What fear is holding you back from getting your book published?

0 comments on “The Fear Factor”

  1. Hey, Shannon, so glad to see you here. I learned a ton from one of your Show vs. Tell on line workshops. I still don't have it down completely, but the goofs are more subtle now than blatant as they were before.
    I really need to hear the part about writing doesn't have to be perfect--just get something down then you can work with it. I so want it to come out perfect the first time! Or at least a heck of a lot closer than it does now. LOL
    I'll think I have a chapter in pretty good shape. (Been using Margie Lawson's Deep Edits packet), and dadgum, when I printed the thing, new stuff jumped off the page at me! Now this was not the first printed copy, mind you. I'm so glad I didn't show it to the husband (a long time red pen kind of guy.) Maybe after this next run through and correction. But then I'll have to print again, and I'll have to read it, and I'll probably see something else. Agghh! LOL Botton line is every time it gets better. I'll read out loud and backwards before printing the next time. Yeah. That should work.
    Someone should put a warning sign up. Writing is reallllllllly hard work! 🙂

    1. It's not so much the writing that's hard as the getting to the writing -- use every trick that works (including the one of "Oh, I'll just write a couple of sentences."). Sometimes we have to break the project down into bite size pieces that aren't so hard.

  2. Laughing at your Alka Seltzer gingersnaps. Sounds like something I would make. And this post is timely for me, as I've been having one of those, "what the hell am I doing, I'm not good enough" moments for a few days now. Thanks for the reminder to face our fears, and I second Marsha's thoughts on Margie's packet. I have that, too, and it's been a tremendous help!

    1. Avoiding fears works, too -- anything that will psych you into writing 🙂 And using fear works, too -- some of the best performers always talk about how they use the terror of stage fright to spur them to be better.

  3. This is a great encouragement for doing life. I work at a homeless shelter and meet all sorts of people bound by fear. And some of them are not experiencing homelessness. They are experiencing anxiety over life.

  4. I enjoyed your post. I've ran through all those excuses, especially the 'I'm too old' one. I've even said 'I wish I had never written the novel' because revision is just toooo overwhelming. Last Saturday, an online friend and fellow F2K Mentor, made a deal with me to exchange and critique one chapter at a time. We've both sent our novels through a critique group in Writer's Village University, and are now ready to apply all the words of wisdom to our work.

    Right now, I'm ready to start and show those words that I'm still their creator. Long may this mood last.

  5. Oh I loved your post Shannon. I have taken several of Margie Lawson's workshops and I learned to print out the lessons and study them I did a lot better. She packs so much information into her classes. I have gone back and reread some of what I'm working on and eww what a couple of messes. I spent June doing Camp NaNo I can't stress how much this helps to get words on the page. I wrote 51,497 words according to their word counter. (I had 3 more than they did but who worries 3 words lol) A lot of it will go in the trash but I was so thrilled to make the deadline again. I am a member of a group that you write 100 words everyday. If you don't write how can you edit or or hope to put that baby out there in the world? Not that I have progressed that far yet lol.

  6. This is to Laura and all the wonderful writers at WITS and to Shannon for her great post. Yes, yes, yes ... used every conceivable "excuse" to waylay and avoid ... to delay or derail. It's not ready yet, not good enough, one more draft, a few more tweaks ... I don't know how to write a query, who likes synopis anyway? Took the "bull" (Ah, Laura I just had to use that pun) by the horns and twisted them. I am submitting. What the heck can they do? Can't throw tomatoes. Thanks to all for giving me so much encouragement ... or was that a kick in the a$$ 🙂

    1. Well, they can throw tomatoes, but that won't kill you. The trick is to remember to separate you from your work -- they are two different things.

  7. Great post, Shannon! I have to say about the baking soda, my mother was great at substituting. If she didn't have baking powder, she put baking soda in. They both were white and started with the term baking, right? She hated to cook, but I could see why. She didn't even own measuring cups or spoons. A little of this is about a teaspoon, right? A little more is a tablespoon.

    I'm trying to finish up a book and I'm afraid to! Okay, so I said it. I haven't figured out the end yet and it's driving me crazy. I will get it...but sometimes it seems like it just won't happen. 🙂 But it has to. I've got another book I need to write pronto after that.... *sigh*

  8. Thanks so much for this blog, Shannon - it makes me so sad to see talented writers, who could sell a book, not sell, because they're afraid (no, I'm not pointing to anyone, you know who you are!)

    Around mid 40's I started embracing my bumbling stumbling way of learning; namely to make every mistake in the book. I stopped being afraid of it. I figure as long as I do everything with loving and respectful intentions, people will forgive my faux paux (now I KNOW that's spelled wrong. Hell, I can't even get English right, and I'm playing with French?) and I learn something.

    I'm now just concentrating on not making a mistake more than once - you live long enough, you end up perfect!!! Hey, it's a goal.

  9. It's never too late to try to write your best book, your first book, another book, any book- no matter your skill or background or age. I started very late in this writing "thing" and it's so exciting.

  10. Shannon, your ginger snaps reminded me of my infamous 'lemon berry crust' experience. I made a blackberry pie to impress my boyfriend (now my husband). I used lemon concentrate instead of lemon juice, I drained the berries so much that the pie was about a 1/2 inch high and used a very deep pie pan. The result was an excellent pie crust that was 2 inches high with a black filing that made it taste like a lemon pie. (He married me anyway )

  11. Ah, the fears. I've been paralyzed by fear for weeks, months even when I couldn't write a word. And then I'd read an author who takes tremendous leaps, slashing and burning their characters and plot and it reignites my passion for writing. I so want to be like them. I want to be brave and maybe a little crazy, but mostly I want to feel the fear and do it anyway. Thanks for a great post. We miss you, lady!

  12. Great post! Fear is one of those ghosts that keeps coming back to haunt me every time I think I've managed to shoo it away. The main form is appears in for me is in procrastination - if I keep putting off the writing then I don't have to worry if it's not good enough. I've just sold my first novel which is a dream come true of course but now new fears are surfacing. What if people don't like it? What if They do? What if I can't come up with the goods for the next one? It's an ongoing battle but one which is definitely worth fighting. The main thing is to keep writing and believe in what you're doing.

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