Fear of writing

How Bruce Springsteen, Neil Gaiman, and John Scalzi Yanked Me out of My Secret Writing Cave and Convinced Me to Start Publishing My Stories

I’m not a Springsteen’s mega fan.

But for some weird reason, I found myself gravitating towards his book: Born to Run.

Maybe it was because I’d gotten my Audible credit that day, or maybe it was because Shawn Coyne talked about the damned book on the Story Grid podcast, or maybe it was just because I wanted to read a story without dragons for a change (it’s not very common, but it does happen every once in a while)…

No matter what forces conspired to keep me away from a fantasy novel, I’m glad I made the choice to listen to Springsteen narrate his amazing life.

If you think Springsteen has little to teach us crazy writers (as I once did), I suggest you imagine he’s a very cool and wise dragon who has incredible tales to tell. You won’t regret it.

Now, let’s pretend that I’m a serious person for a while

Every time I think about this awesome book, there’s only one thing that keeps coming to my mind. 

Springsteen performing in a mall, with a big dream and a battered guitar, and getting nothing but annoyed stares from passersby.

The great challenge of adulthood is holding on to your idealism after you lose your innocence.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Many people dream of becoming writers, of publishing the next Harry Potter or the next Hunger Games. It’s not a lack of talent that keeps us from trying to fulfill that crazy dream. It’s a lack of faith and an excess of romanticism about what truly means to be a writer who finishes and publishes books.

There’s nothing romantic about being irrelevant, criticized or utterly ignored. Ask Springsteen, ask J. K. Rowling or any other artist who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth or a lucky star.

And then ask yourself these questions:

Will you continue writing after those rejections start hitting you in the face? Will you expose yourself to public failure and mockery? And, when it happens (because it will happen), will you wake up and still want to write?

When I was young and silly (now I’m just silly by the way…) I read a tiny story I’d wrote to my classmates. It was an entry in a journal of a warrior who knew he would not be coming back from a battle (yes, I’m an introvert drama queen…).

I read it in a tremulous voice and with cheeks burning hot. And when I finished… nothing happened.

Absolute silence and blank stares.

I sat down feeling like an idiot, and that evening, I cried like a fool. I never dared to ask for feedback then. I was so immersed in my teenage insecurity drama show that I lost an opportunity to grow.

I felt sorry for myself then. But now I know that it was only fear, ego and a selfish tendency for self-preservation killed my stories before they even began taking proper shapes, sounds and tastes.

You can’t be a writer who finishes books if you keep holding on to your ego. You must hold on to something else instead.

The tale of the tragic self-centered writer

We honor our parents by carrying their best forward and laying the rest down. By fighting and taming the demons that laid them low and now reside in us.

Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

You see? You can totally picture Springsteen as a very cool demon-slaying dragon!

Now, back to being serious…

It takes a weird person to keep writing or singing when nobody or very few people care about what they have to say.

I meant that.

We are brought up in a society that teaches us to respect other people’s judgments of us. A society that molds us to acceptable standards and teaches us to regard talent as something innate. Either you have it, or you don’t.

Deal with it in whatever way you like.

But I often find that people who become published authors are the ones who persevered through the endless desert of self-doubt.

Authors must ultimately be the ones who believe in the power of their stories, even if nobody else believed in them.

You may choose to hide behind a pen name, never show your face in photos, but critics, one-star reviews and mean words will reach you all the same.

And if you let them, these words will cast you down, contaminate your soul, and fill you with despair.

The only way to move past them is to keep slaying those demons.

Nobody believes that you can be a writer, but you’re still bursting with all the stories you need to tell? Just go ahead and slay those demons. Nobody’s going to do it for you.

Accept and invite feedback with kindness and humility. And reserve your demon-slaying skills for the time you spend writing.

Or as Neil Gaiman put it:

Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually, time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.

Neil Gaiman

Romanticism is keeping you inside that cave

Slaying demons sounds amazing. But it’s just an arduous job that can get extremely boring and frustrating at times (really, I’m an obnoxious person when I’m fighting with my terrible first drafts).

It takes consistency and flexibility to become a good writer. But you don’t have to trust me. You can over to John Scalzi’s blog and read his Utterly Useless Writing Advice.

In the end, it all boils down to putting words on a page and believing that you can create a cohesive story out of them. Even if the process ends up being painful and difficult in the short term.

“Let’s be clear. Anyone who is even marginally literate can be a writer — all it takes is the desire to express yourself and the means to do it. (…) There is no great science to being a writer; as I said earlier, you simply write. And hopefully, you enjoy the process.” – John Scalzi

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman

How to grow as a writer

There are two types of novice writers. Those who write too much too fast and publish everything as soon as it comes out of their heads. And those who choose to ruminate endlessly and do everything but write…

I gravitate towards the second type.

So much that I’m already thinking about the long-term strategies to market my imaginary books!

Chances are, if you’re reading this, maybe you are too.

And maybe you’re thinking: what if I publish something and people ignore me? 

I have good news for you. That question is absolutely unnecessary! 

Search no more. I have your answer: people will ignore you.

“But they’re not ignoring this other awesome person! Everything she writes is golden and goes viral!” you may say…

Well, I used to ask that question every time I visited my favorite blogs. And then I realized, that most of these bloggers had been writing consistently for years, sometimes decades.

I never got the chance to witness their beginnings, to share and understand their struggles, to see them performing to a difficult crowd.

Have you tried to going back to those early posts of your favorite writers? I always do that. It reminds me that we’re not robots, nor rocks, nor one-dimensional creatures.

Practice changes us.

But it takes an immeasurable amount of time and patience to get to the point where your writing starts to shine.

So don’t give up if people don’t love your writing. This is only your beginning, don’t let it be your end too. Dare to be an author of imperfect stories.

Photo by Devon Janse van Rensburg on Unsplash

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