Writers Fright

We’ve got a blackboard in the Gotham office, where anyone can write a quote or statement.

Sometimes it’s about writing, but doesn’t have to be. Recently one of our interns put this up:

The scariest moment is always just before you start.
-Stephen King

It’s Halloween, so let’s discuss fear.

You may not know this, but I played baseball for a season. Little League, when I was seven. I was the worst player on the team, which is why they put me in right field, where I wouldn’t touch a ball unless the other team had a lefty slugger, an unlikely occurrence.

But I did have to bat.

I struck out every time. Every. Single. Time. I was paralyzed by a fear of failure. I was afraid of the ball (reasonably so), but, even more, I feared the humiliation of striking out. I was so afraid of striking out, I just floundered in fear at the plate until the inevitable happened. (It’s been said that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, so I should have known failure is a natural part of the game.)

I was also hindered by fear of success, a concept I learned years ago from a teacher. When I was a struggling artist, I remember mentioning fear of success to my father, who replied (puzzled more than mean), “But you haven’t had any success.” Yes, dad, true, but I’ve come to see this is a real thing.

In my final game, I decided to try to actually hit the ball. To seize some success for myself. Instead of fretting about the strikeout, I focused on watching the ball and timing my swing. I got a hit! The ball didn’t travel far and I was easily thrown out, but, damn, I connected.

After the game Coach Lentz (yes, I remember his name) signaled me over and gave me the game ball, even though I played no role in our victory.

Every achievement I’ve made, personal and professional, has come when I played past my fear. This is also true of every writer I know who’s gotten a few hits. Sometimes I ask our teachers how many rejections they received before the first acceptance. The answer is often “over 50.” Apparently even Stephen King gets nervous when he starts a project, but obviously that doesn’t stop him.

Also know this: your fears are one of the very best things to include in your stories. Fear of parties, fear of dogs, fear of relationships, fear of flying, etc.

If you want to play past your writing-fear in a class, we’ve got many options, all stocked with friendly teachers, supportive students, and barf bags.

Alex Steele

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