Thursday, January 29, 2015

Snippets from the Undone Fear Workshop

I was cleaning out a drawer yesterday. If I had to name my favorite household task, I'd say, "Rearranging closets and drawers." You get to throw out or donate stuff (I'm not the pack rat type), you see what you've got, and you can make new arrangements. Oh, and if you can't fit everything into your fridge, give me a call. I'll make it fit! Even my mother has surrendered her skepticism.

Well, a year or so ago, I was asked to lead an online discussion on the topic of writing fears. For one reason or another the workshop didn't happen, and in the aforementioned drawer I found my notes. They contain this quote from Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

"The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars."

Wow. Impactful way to break the news that your first novel, and very likely your second, third, or even more, won't sell. And shouldn't. This is always a hard point to raise with students, and I do so with relatively few. It would be unnecessarily discouraging to those who are still having struggles with basic craft and are not ready to think about marketing.

Yet, this quote helps put several writing fears into perspective. "It's not working!" Maybe it isn't, but producing quantity will teach you. "The story is better in my head than on the page!" Vision is always ahead of execution. This is normal. You're producing quantity. You'll begin to close this gap somewhat, but it can't be completely closed. "It's too revealing!" But now you're getting somewhere. You're getting close to taking flight. Maybe you'll even soar.

There are lots of other fears. One of the more fascinating to me is the fear of putting your potential at risk. It's easier to have potential than it is to risk acting on that potential and finding out you can't live up to it. Of course, if you're defining "can't live up to it" as "I produce a lot of work that stinks," see the Art and Fear quote. Another fascinating fear is the fear of making the final push to make a book all it can be. You're so "almost there," but you drag your feet on a final revision. I've seen this in action. Perhaps it's related to the fear of risking potential. Or the fear that this, too, will not be a piece that soars.

Your thoughts? Your fear? If you dare, share it here! :)

21 comments:

Kelly Hashway said...

I fear I won't achieve my dream, which is to be on the NY Times Bestseller list. I keep trying though.

janet smart said...

I fear that none of my picture books will get picked up by a publisher. But, I keep working on them to make them better and hopefully, what a publisher is looking for.You have to face your fears and kick them out of the way.

Mirka Breen said...

"If I had to name my favorite household task, I'd say, "Rearranging closets and drawers." "
Can you come to my house?

And this, too: fear is a fact for all strivers.

Melissa Sarno said...

Ack, too many fears to name, in this writing life. Lately, I've been setting them aside and taking comfort in just being with the work itself. The quote is so right. It reminds me of what Ira Glass says, that you have to produce A LOT of work before your work is as good as your ambitions. Thank you for the reminder.

Bish Denham said...

My long time fear, which I am slowly, after all these years, getting over, is that my writing isn't any good. I'm only now starting to allow myself to think that maybe, just maybe I CAN write.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think we all have fears...perhaps in recognizing them, we can move past them and really succeed.

cleemckenzie said...

You've put into words the exact fears I've had. Well, done AND very well organized. :-)

Faith E. Hough said...

I feel as though you're speaking directly to me in this post, Marcia! I have been working on a revision for...forever...and I know so many fears are holding me back. I finally admitted to myself the other day that I'm afraid that if I finish the revision and start submitting, it still won't be good enough. I'm also ALWAYS afraid when I start a story, because I fear I'm not a good enough writer to do justice to the idea--and should just wait until I'm a better writer...as if that will ever happen if I don't keep practicing my craft with the ideas God gives me!
Thanks for the inspiration and good advice...and nice, friendly kick in the pants. :)

Vijaya said...

Okay, many years ago, a friend gave this book to me. I read it. I HATED it. It just cut too close to the bone, you know what I mean. It was so much easier to have all this nebulous fear and do nothing about it. And darn it, you've opened that can again. Maybe you need to come spend a week here with me and get me straightened out ... and we can get the house ship-shape too?

Great post. By the way, I gave away that book because they made me so mad.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I think we need to dream big, though. Good for you.

Janet -- I know, we work without any assurances. But we just have to keep doing it.

Mirka -- If you'll strip my beds and put new sheets on, you've got a deal.

Melissa -- I like that phrase -- "taking comfort in just being with the work itself."

Bish -- That old saw is hard to get free of, isn't it? Hugs.

Stephanie -- That's true. It helps a lot if we can name what's holding us back.

Lee -- Thank you! Glad it spoke to you.

Faith -- Sometimes I think we're afraid to spend our best ideas at our current skill level. But in order to get better, we have to tackle a project that's currently very important to us. So far, I've found that wonderful new ideas always come to replace the written ones. We write the ideas God gives now and trust him for the ones that come later.

Vijaya -- A week? That would be so fantastic. But you're one of the most conscientious housekeepers I know. I'll bet your beautiful house IS shipshape. We could sit on your porch and go to the ocean. :) Now I'M going to have to get the book. I confess I've not read the whole thing.

DMS said...

Sometimes I fear putting myself out there, but then I luckily will click send so it is out of my hands. :)

I love to reorganize closets and drawers too!
~Jess

Medeia Sharif said...

I fear that I'm spinning on the wheel, getting nowhere. I know I'm getting books published, good reviews, etc., but on the onset of my journey I wanted to be on the NYT list with movie deals. I still want to dream big, though.

Marcia said...

Jess -- Maybe just being able to click send helps us. Like one little second and, okay, you've done it. Not as much time to deliberate as with paper.

Medeia -- There's always something, isn't there? I saw one writer refer to "coming to terms with the type of writer you are." I guess we need to figure out how to continue to dream big as time goes on.

Vijaya said...

Marcia, I'm an okay housekeeper. Not conscientious. But I tell you ... a week sitting on the porch, sipping sangria and writing and talking shop and eating and then going to the beach sound splendid! You might get enough sunshine and moonshine to last a lifetime ... enough to banish all fears. Just thinking about it makes my heart light. Can't wait for spring.

Crystal Collier said...

Quality over quantity, always. I think every writer should learn the art of flash fiction for that very reason. If you can say it in 1000 words or less, you know precisely what matters to the scene.

LD Masterson said...

I fear I'm going to be spinning my wheels until I run out of time.

Marcia said...

Crystal -- Very good point about flash fiction. I've attempted a few and actually won a blog contest with one once. :)

LD -- Sometimes, me too.

Marcia said...

Vijaya, I'll take that week!

DMS said...

I fear putting myself out there, but luckily I keep trying! :)

I love to organize closets and drawers. It helps to clear my mind.
~Jess

Kim Van Sickler said...

There sure is a lot of by-product created in the mission to create a publishable work. Not a profession for the miserly!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I produce a lot of work that stinks, but I never get rid of it. What if it is the seed of a story that I just need to work harder on to make it not stink? Most of the stories are on my computer, but I do have a file of hand written or typed (on a typewriter) stories.