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The Fear of Writing: Revisited

Words, words, dreaded damned words!


It takes many forms and goes by many names. The forms run from the tragic to the comical. Drinking and drug use, with all of their associated drawbacks, such as divorce and death, usually head the list of the tragic forms. The comical forms can be told by the incredible list of excuses for not tickling the keyboard. "I'm thinking" is a frequent one most often used as a reason why one is playing video games or watching TV. "I'm working on (plot, outline, slant, dialog twists, characterization, and the ever popular 'propping up my story arc')." The names are "Writers block," "milking the muse," "doing research," and so on. It all comes down to the fear of writing.


For most sufferers, this is actually a fear of writing stuff that others might see. I have known diarists who write reams of stuff every day for themselves but cannot put two words together for publication. A man I knew who was a natural born story teller, and who had some valuable stories to tell, was paralyzed when he tried to write them so that others might see them. And what beginning writer has not trembled in terror at possible editorial rejection?


A very famous writer of my acquaintance used to write her novels and then put them in a closet. That way she could get the words on the paper and none of those words were rejected. After half a dozen of these, her newly completed novel practically screamed for publication and she broke down and sent it to an editor. The editor loved it and said, "please send me more." The next morning he had the remainder of her closet collection on his desk.


When I began writing, the fear of being judged by the composed words I stuck in front of someone was absolutely defeating. I strained my marriage to the limit with endless pleas of "Waddya think" as I held out a gob of papers in a shaking hand. The trauma of another rejection was sufficient to keep me from writing for weeks on end. It put me in an unproductive writing stance that is familiar to most new writers: Rather than writing the story, I was writing not to get rejected.


I eventually got out of my paralysis by making myself sit at my desk until I had 1,000 words on the paper. It mattered not what the words were. They could be my own name written 1,000 times, but before I could leave my desk, that thousand words had to be on the paper. After awhile that thing in me that was afraid to write got the message: We are going to write today. The remaining issue was just how bored did I want to be during the writing. Story ideas started popping up, story lines, characters, setting, plot lines and twists, and I was writing. Once I learned to keep editorial and reader tastes out of my story program, I was writing my own stuff and there was no stopping me.


Okay, health, or lack of it, stops me. I have a lot of health issues that I won't go into, but between dealing with doctors, blinding headaches, disabling other pains, more than occasional surgeries, I wind up away from my keyboard and away from my current project days, weeks, and recently months at a time.


My current project is a fantasy/science fiction work set in the American Civil War, as well as many other times including the present. It is a very complicated work that will address, through the unfolding of the tale, the biggest issue facing the world today, and no it is not global warming.


One of my many issues is severe ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). How it affects my writing is, unless I am at it every day, I lose the threads of my story. I have extensive notes regarding names, battles, character descriptions, and so on. But what happens next and where the story is heading are the threads that have yet to materialize. When I am away from my keyboard for any length of time, those threads fade and tend to get confused before they vanish entirely. After a long enough bout of this, I begin getting this feeling that if I put words on it would look like: "Maybe I don't have it anymore."


Of course, this is just one more way of saying "I'm not writing because all good writing is challenging and I am afraid I am not up to the challenge this time."


So. Start at the beginning, again.

Pick up the threads, again.

And continue firm in the knowledge that I know how to write, I know what interests me, and I know how, after many rewrites, how to bring what interests me to life.


That is 802 words, so with less than 200 more, I can leave my desk.



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What About This Blog?

For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.

Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.