Friday, July 16, 2010

When Fear is a Good Thing

Fear has a bad reputation--and rightfully so. It can fill us with doubt, stop us from following our dreams--even leave us trapped in our bathroom because there's a spider on the floor and we don't have shoes on and there's no way we're killing it with our hands--not even with an entire roll of toilet paper to protect us.

Okay...maybe that last one is just me. (Sadly, that happened last week. My fear of spiders is pretty much a paralyzing phobia).

But sometimes fear can be a good thing. 

After all, fear of being a splat on the pavement probably motivates you to look both ways before crossing the street. And my fear of public ridicule keeps me from singing around anyone with ears--a fact you should all be thanking me for profusely. And when it comes to writing, well...I have a theory.

For me, the more afraid I am to write the story, the more I know I'm onto something.

Case in point: my current MS. I have never been so terrified of an idea in my life. I refused to even consider writing it at first. Then I stalled for more than a year, claiming I 'wasn't ready,' and 'needed more time to research.'

Why was I so scared?

Well, it pretty much embodied everything I didn't do. It's a very plot driven story, and everything I'd written before that was much more simple and character driven. As if that weren't scary enough, the plot was a mystery. I rarely even read mysteries, much less wrote them. There were a ton of characters, a ton of clues and twists. Oh, and I had to create my own world--something I never wanted to do and honestly hope I never have to do again. 

So yeah, I pretty much begged the characters to go away and leave me alone so I could work on the nice, simple idea I had in progress. But the more I fought it, the more I knew I HAD to write it--and here's why:

Personally, I believe that your best writing comes when you push yourself to stray outside of your comfort zone and branch into uncharted territory. Playing it safe only leads to mediocrity. In fact, my blood, sweat and tears should be all over every page I write. So when I'm afraid of something, it's a good sign. It was with my current MS. That's the draft that landed me an agent, and will hopefully someday be published. And the fear was how I knew. 

But what do you guys think? Do you ever fear the ideas you come up with? And how do you know when an idea is THE ONE to pursue? 


  1. Well, my next book should rock then, as it's got me scared and thinking I'm in way over my head!

  2. That's cool you're pushing yourself to write it. I haven't written enough books yet to have that experience. But I'll remember your advice.

  3. You are not alone with the paralyzing spider phobia. I can't even look at pictures of spiders without freaking out.

    I'm often afraid of the stuff I write about. I think it can help drive you forward because you realize just how important it is to talk about.

  4. Oh, wow. I hadn't thought of fear like that. But you right. You are so right! The next time an idea scares me away, I won't let it!


  5. Moving outside my uncharted territory...great way to put it. That's exactly where my new critique partner has me, revamping my thinking about my story. It's the editing that's terrifying me. What if I cut something vital? What if I leave something out. What if I put something in unnecessarily because those other fears are wrapping my brain in plastic wrap???

    Okay. Took a deep breath. If fear isn't a good thing, at least it has one hell of a motivational engine.

    Enjoy your weekend.

  6. I'm full of fear (full of something...). But yeah, it does drive me I think. The fear of failing is the biggest motivator.

  7. I'm seeing a new Vlog ... with you singing ... to a spider.

    Just kidding, have a great weekend Shannon!

  8. In general, I try to do things that scare me (like, writing a book). I find that I'm afraid of things that will require hard work and a risk of failure, but will ultimately change my life for the better. So whenever I get that fearful feeling in my gut, I decide to do it. I think it makes all the difference.

    I'm so with you on the scary idea front. I put a book aside because I thought I wasn't ready for it, and now I'm back at it and it feels scary but great!

  9. I always hope that one day I'll have time to pursue all of the ideas I have but you're right. The ones that make me uncomfortable always have the strongest life of their own. They're also the hardest to write --but I get the best feedback from them.

  10. First of all I would just like to say there is a tree frog running around my house at the moment because I was too freaked out to catch it.
    Last sighted: My bedroom door.

    I completely agree with your idea about fear! If we can manage it and not let it trip us up, then something incredible can come from it. I know I need to pursue an idea when it won't leave me alone and it sounds like something I would love to read myself!

  11. LOL, I'm afraid that the mc of my current wip is much smarter than I am. She knows things about tools and cars and machines that might as well be Greek to me.

    Good thing the mc's already in Greece. ;) But the prospect of messing that up scares me even more.

  12. I agree on the thing about being scared of what you're writing is good.

    But I don't think you should ever confront spiders. (They are all over the Internet lately. I even wrote a blog post about them this week!) And I don't blame you for refusing to kill that spider. I've refused to use the bathroom because there was one on the toilet paper roll. Seriously. Hubs wasn't home so I just waited and made him deal with it when he got home 4 hours later.

  13. This is something I have been dealing with as well. I agree, fear can drive good things into a novel. If you are affraid, then your audience will be, too(to paraphrase a quote). And what's better than tension?

    Let's stay away from the spiders, though, okay? At least in real life.

    I decided to put little things like that into tense scenes in my book. My MC was hiding from a lunatic and found himself rubbing into a massive web. Sort of like LOTR, first movie. I hated that scene, but it only added, so WTH.

  14. I totally agree! I have pushed myself to do the things I am afraid of in life, in work, and now in writing. And though it takes time to talk myself into it, I never regret facing the fears and besting them.

    Awesome post!

  15. I agree too.

    Well, except for the spiders. For some reason I kinda like them :)

  16. Nothing to fear but fear itself!

    Well done you for turning a negative emotion into something vital and positive!

    Good luck with this fabulous novel your are writing!! Go for it - live dangerously and outside the box - the result is bound to be amazing!!

    Take care

  17. When I read plot driven story my ears pricked up, and then when you said mystery I sat up on my back legs and stuck my tongue out. I'm a mystery/suspense guy and the thought that your working on something I would be interested in reading (no offense intended to YA, or romance) is exciting. :)

  18. Is that why I'm having so much trouble with my WIP? Hmmm...

  19. Oh I REALLY like this post--it kind of reminds me of Libba Bray's talk at the SCBWI Winter conference--how you have to step outside of your comfort zone and jumping first and then building wings. Also, beyond the fear of the actual story your writing--is the fear of being a writer or rather, the fear of making crazy choices that lead to becoming a writer. Nicely said.

  20. I completely agree. Thank you for naming it. I am stalled out in my script, not writing the second half because I know that it's personal. It's fiction, but the emotional force comes from me, my life experiences, my greatest fears. Thanks. Maybe this will unblock me. My characters won't go away either.

  21. That's an interesting premise! Both of my 'complete' MS's scared me to write.

    How will people react?
    Can I do justice to this?
    Is there a market?

    and so on, and so on.

    But I had to write them. It was either that or let them stick in my throat til they choked me!

  22. I agree that your best writing comes when you push yourself (even though it is scary sometimes!)...good luck with your story! Woo-hoo to overcoming fear!

  23. "In fact, my blood, sweat and tears should be all over every page I write."

    Yes, and yes. In fact, I've been saying this for ages. I'd accuse you of stealing it from me, but... okay, I don't have any reason not to: you STOLE IT FROM ME YOU HUSSY YOU NOW GIVE IT BACK!!1!!1!

    Um, yes. Great post, though. :)

  24. How awesome that it was the very MS that got you an agent! I'm currently tackling a 3 pov MS and I am SO out of my comfort zone! I can foresee a ton of editing but I'm staying strong and riding this one out.


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