On fear and writing

It’s been three weeks since I’ve been able to sit down and focus on writing, because I’ve been traveling and recovering from traveling, but today I will take my laptop to the couch (where I am writing this book) and get back to work. I admit I’m a little scared. Partly my fear is because I’ve lost momentum on this work in progress. Taking a break from writing, especially during first drafts, always does that. I know that today might be a little rough since I need to warm back up again. It’s just like going back to the gym after not exercising for a while. Things will be a little creaky at first, and your writing muscles will strain a little, but you know that after the first couple of days, you’ll loosen up.

However, part of my fear is because I’m writing something that challenges me. That’s always scary, but it’s also necessary. I’ve come to believe that if you’re not scared at least a little by what you’re writing, it’s probably not important enough to write.

I don’t mean that you should be freaked out ghost-story style. I mean that it’s a good thing to be working on something that’s a bit out of easy reach. It’s a good thing to stretch yourself as a writer with every project, because that’s how you become a stronger writer.

Thinking back through my previous novels, I was definitely scared of each one. With Ash, I was scared that I couldn’t finish writing the book at all. I hadn’t finished a novel since I was a teen, and this book felt important to me because it was my declaration that I was a writer.

With Huntress, I was scared because Ash came out to strong reviews while I was in the middle of writing Huntress, and I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to Ash. Plus it was my second novel, which meant I was dealing with Second Novel Syndrome, a particularly awful kind of self-doubt and terror that thankfully I won’t have to suffer through again. With Adaptation and Inheritance (I count them as the same experience because they’re one story), I was afraid because I’d created a very complicated plot that I’d have to reveal over the course of almost one thousand pages. I didn’t know if I could do it — it sort of felt like walking a tightrope without any training.

I think that’s the kind of fear that’s most productive, because it means you’re trying something new. Of course, anytime you try something new, there’s the potential for failure. If you like to succeed (like me — and like most people), that potential for failure can be paralyzing, especially if the challenge you’re setting up is too much for you.

In reality, sometimes we can overreach as writers. We can start a project that is simply too far beyond our current level of writerly skill. For example, if you’ve only ever run a total of two miles at once, it’s too much to expect yourself to be able to complete a marathon tomorrow. If you train for it deliberately over the course of several weeks or months, teaching your body how to run long distances, sure — you can definitely eventually run a marathon. But probably not tomorrow.

I have a project that I’ve been sitting on for almost ten years now, because it’s my writing equivalent of a marathon. I know it’s big, and I know it’s largely been beyond me. But I can see, now, that I’m almost ready to write it. It’s really exciting, and also terrifying.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a different project that is also scary, but in a somewhat less overwhelming way. I’ve never written anything like this, so part of what I’m doing every day is figuring out how to do it. That’s certainly scary, but it also shocks me into being present in the writing. I have to concentrate, because I don’t know what I’m doing.

So if you’re out there writing something that scares you, take heart! You’re not alone. I’m with you. Now let’s get back to work.