We all fear something. Some of us fear more things than others. Writers, well, most of us in one way or another fear everything, for through us, our characters surmount every fear imaginable … and in the case of fantasists, some fears that are unimaginable. That, I suppose, makes us unique among our ilk. We don’t just dread the possible or even the probable, but the unlikely and worse yet … the unfathomable. It’s a wonder we get out of bed every day.
We’re not all stark raving mad. I am … but I’m sure there is a good percentage of perfectly sane human beings out there who sit for hours on end, absorbed in the surreal, who function like normal people. Who wash their sheets as often as they should. Who water their plants, and remember to feed the dogs on time. I’m just not among them.
Bear with me here … I’ll get to the writing analogy in a bit …
I’m not certifiably insane (not on paper anyway) but I have my moments of wondering. No, I didn’t have one of those moments today, but I did mention last night to my husband that it would be nice … for maybe a day or two … to just live in someone else’s shoes. To be one of those functional people. Let me be frank (I know, when am I not frank?): I live in pajamas. From what I know of civilization, that isn’t normal.
But, I’m built for this existence whether I like it or not.
I don’t want, or know how, to be anything other than what I am. If I didn’t have a shred of moral decency I’d be an alcoholic, or drug addict, or both. I’d burn my candle at both ends, and die an early death. Lucky for me, there are people who will put up with my sorry ass.
You’d think, since I fear so many things, that I’d loathe horror movies, right? Nope. Just the opposite. Can’t get enough of them. Or horror novels, for that matter. There are some really sound reasons behind this, but instead of boring you with them, let’s take an analogy from my favorite childhood hero: Why did Batman choose a bat to be his persona? Because bats frightened him when he was a child. Why do I obsess over horrific things?
Because I live with fear every hour of every day.
How does this relate to writing? And more importantly to you as an author? Easily … your fears define you.
No they don’t!
I hear you. I get that you’ve absolved yourself of any fears you might have once had, and made peace with their lingering remains. But, hear me out for a second. Fear leads to avoidance in most cases. If the fears are intrinsic in nature, then they’ll manifest through your writing faster than you can blink. This isn’t always a bad thing. Just like Bruce Wayne, you can find a way to use them to your advantage (if you don’t know who Bruce Wayne is, then you’re no longer welcome here … I’m just saying).
Don’t think you fear anything at all? Go ‘accidentally’ touch a hot stove and tell me that again. You don’t fear it, because you avoid putting yourself in that particular circumstance. But if you were strapped to a chair, and someone was bringing that proverbial stove to you, you’d shake, I assure you. Just because we can’t confront our fears doesn’t mean they don’t affect us. Our subconscious knows these things are out there, and adjusts, whether we’re aware of the action or not. It’s sort of how a person who has recently been in a wreck will often have trouble driving right away. These things linger. For writers, whose imaginations are always on overdrive, they linger longer than ‘normal.’
Knowing what you fear will help you know how to look for it in your writing. It will help you channel that energy. This extends to everyday fiction writers just as well as fantasy-fiction writers. So, don’t think I’m ignoring you.
It will also help you to see where you’re holding onto imagined pain. For example, oftentimes writers who pen stories of great tragedy will hold onto the grief their characters feel for weeks or months after the manuscript has been completed. This can seep into our daily lives if we aren’t careful. It makes us cranky, irritable, and moody as hell. It can also leave use emotionally crippled.
Think about it. We cry at times with our characters. We get enraged with them. We feel their love, their hate and their … you guessed it … fear. Do you honestly believe that those emotions never carry over?
They do. They do. They do.
It defines us in a way … those emotions. But the strongest of them all, is fear. Why? Because no other emotion carried over has the potential to create the kind of perverse relationships that fear creates. It wreaks havoc on our sleep and our sanity. At least, it does for some of us. Maybe the best of us. Perhaps that’s a stretch, but there has to be some benefit in all of this, or what do we suffer for?
Call it depression … for what else is depression than a sort of resignation to the inevitability of fear. Call it anxiety. Call it whatever you’d like. Hemingway had a few names for it. As did Sylvia and quite a few others. Woolfe comes to mind. But whatever you do, don’t call it ‘nothing.’ It’s there. And it’s best dealt with in the daylight, while we’re all nearby. While we’re all there for each other in this rabbit hole we share as writers. In one form or another it’s taken some of us.
Maybe the best of us. But, the thing is … it doesn’t have to …
It won’t go away, not entirely, because like I said before, these things, these emotions, these fears, make us who we are as writers. But we can’t ignore them. For some, this is a relatively easy task. For others, such as myself, it’s monumental and will take the breadth of my life to fully grasp. But, there is power in a name and in a beginning. And in saying all of this openly, I’m not only laying claim to my fears, I’m bringing them into the light. And, I think, perhaps that’s the most powerful option we have as writers … community. Not to network, or share links, or whine about agents and publishers and so on … but to really fellowship with one another. Because really, at the end of the day, no one knows you like another writer. After all, we’ve not only walked in each other’s shoes … we’ve carried each other.
We’ve been carried.
Even the best of us …