Friday, March 15, 2013


from Jacqueline

Whenever I speak to groups of writers, the issue of fear always comes up. Fear of failure, fear of the blank page, fear of the bogey man who preys on people who dare to string words together to form sentences, images, and – heaven forbid – stories!!!  I have a pretty down to earth attitude to all this fear business, which I suppose comes from an upbringing ingrained by the, "You Think You’ve Got It Hard” School of Parenting.  Not that I’m complaining.  And I am not saying I don’t sometimes get the collywobbles about deadlines and the fact that my story seems to be imploding around about Chapter 7, or what the heck did I think I was doing anyway, trying to be a writer?  All I am saying is, before we start staring at our navels and feeling all writerly and sorry for ourselves and our fear, let’s put this in a bit of perspective, and to do that – here’s a bit of Winspear rambling.

 As many of you know, I wrote most of my first novel, MAISIE DOBBS, while recovering from a pretty nasty horseback riding accident.  I was broken, bruised and at one point a bit worried that I might have to say goodbye to a limb I’d rather got used to.  But during my convalescence, I decided I had to have something to show for myself by the end of it  all (Voice in head: “You think you’re hurt – I’ll tell you about hurt …” ).  When I had finished the first draft, I was so exhausted by this business of getting well, doing PT and worrying about where the next penny might come from (this is America – an accident can decimate your bank account and every credit card too!), I just sent my sample chapters out with cover letters and a proposal and thought, “Sod it – what can they do – break the other arm?”  I had no fear of rejection, because I had some real scars!  And so I draw your attention to the following, to ponder upon when you feel fear, because - unless you are a mere seed of a person, barely out of the shell – at some point in your life you have gone through something far worse than this time-consuming, ego-bashing fear of writing/of editors/of publication.  

My parents both left school far earlier than they would have liked, because school was kind of difficult when they were kids.  My mother, especially, loved books and writing – and now at 85 she’s finally writing her stories, which is great.  I don’t’ think she’s scared at all, because she has known real fear, and knows it takes more than one critical agent, one busy editor or one cranky reviewer on Amazon to put fear into her bones. The Luftwaffe did that when she was a kid.

How can we say we are fearful of writing, of putting our innermost thoughts on the page, when we don’t have to face f***wit reviewers like this every day:

This 14-year-old girl went on writing despite them, and despite the fact that they tried to kill her to stop her putting her words out there for all to read.  She has vowed to write again and again and again - God bless her:

 So, what have you to fear – if, like me, you are writing from a place of relative comfort and security?

One of my first lessons in just getting on and writing, rather than waiting for the perfect time/thought/supportive person/cup of tea, was when I read the amazing book, BEYOND ALL PITY by Carolina Maria Jesus.  I was given the book by a friend when I was 16, and it broke my heart.  Carolina was a crushingly poor woman living in the favelas of Sao Paulo.   She had no money for paper or pencils and pens, so she scavenged her writing materials in the same way she scavenged food to feed her children.  And on those scraps of paper – and sometimes the scrap was just the rough edge of a piece of newspaper – she wrote about her life. 

 A snippet from Beyond All Pity:

“Here’s Dona Silvia came to complain about my children. That they were badly educated. I don't look for defects in children. Neither in mine nor in others. I know that a child is not born with sense. When I speak with a child I use pleasant words. What infuriates me is that the parents come to my door to disrupt my rare moments of inner tranquility. But when they upset me, I write. I know how to dominate my impulses. I only had two years of schooling, but I got enough to form my character.”

People have always suffered for telling their truth, some more than others. 

Most of us ("us" being people here, reading this blog, or writing, or reading, or working or playing in safety and comfort), on the other hand, have nothing, really, to fear – at least, not when it comes to writing.  Right now, I am in my home office, which at worst is a bit cramped, mainly because I am a book pack rat. I’m not a Syrian parent trying to educate my child in a cave, and I am not a mother of a girl in Afghanistan, who would like to see her read and write but I know it could be the death of her and me.  I am not poverty stricken and I can move my arms and legs (well, the left is still a bit dodgy after the knee surgery).   I am not dealing with a life threatening illness, and neither is any one of my family – not this year, anyway.  And here's the thing, we don’t have to go anywhere else in the world to take inspiration from those who have known fear and want – and many were inspired to write a good book or two along the way.

And we don't need to go back into history, either - I think we can all name one writer who just got on with the business of working with words in the face of great adversity.

I don’t want to be an old nag, or a witch about it, but let’s not get our knickers in a twist about this writing thing.  Don’t be scared – just get on with it.  If you want to write, then write from your heart and really make it worth it for every poor soul in this world who would love to have the materials and means that you have, but they just don’t.  Let’s just all get over ourselves – this is not rocket science.  Get those fingers on the keyboard or wrapped around a pen or whatever, and write what you want to write.  Make people laugh, cry, think, or want to read more.   Writing isn't easy - well, sometimes it is - but you have to tell the story you want to tell and do everything in your power to make it the best story you can possibly write – that’s all you can do.  My dad always said, “Don’t push out the boat for want of a coat of paint.”  Do your revision, wrangle with the words, and heck, don’t be afraid. It’s not going to kill you – not in this country, as far as I know, or in Europe or Scandinavia. It’s a manuscript, your work of art.  Maybe it will be a book.  And if it is – go on, write another.  Write an article, an essay, a short story or a poem.  And if it isn’t published, for crying out loud, don’t let that stop you writing.  Get out there and do it again.  Write because you can.  Write because you are free to write.  Write because you are alive.

And I bet you're glad that's all from me this week!!



  1. right on point, Jackie. I hate when people come to add event and say to me, " I wish I had time to write a novel." No one has time. Just try and shut up sbout.
    This was my first attempt at a comment from my phone. Love it
    Jim b

  2. You really put things in perspective, Jackie. That's the best writing pep talk I've ever read.

    I need to print this out and read it every single day.

  3. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, Jim (oh,and well done with that phone, I am very impressed!), and thank you for taking time to comment, Karen. Not everyone will like what I have to say, but there you go - it's just one person's perspective.

  4. Well, it resonated with me like other pep talks haven't. So there's that.

  5. Excellent advice which I will share with my writing group. Some of us have been published, but we mostly write for the joy of it.

  6. Write because you are alive -- I love that! . . . and I love that you used recuperation time for writing. A friend read War and Peace during a long convalescence from a gunshot inflicted by a crazy person. He thought he might as well put the time to good use. I tend toward videos and ice cream, but I'll work on a new attitude.
    I can hardly wait for the book!

    1. Wow, that sure nails it. Fear of a bomb exploding on your child vs. fear of a word not being perfect? Hmmmmm. Shush already and carry on. Stellar advice. Thank you.

  7. This really puts things into perspective, Our J. Thanks!

  8. Jacqueline-thank you for your perspective. Consider my pants kicked. It's the war within that can be the hardest to fight. Often the only way to win it is to set oneself aside and get on with life.
    PS can't figure out how to do a profile so I'm "anonymous" but actually I'm Bonnie Searle.

  9. from Jacqueline,

    Thanks, all, for your comments - and as you can see, I still haven't figured out the profile, so I remain: Anonymous! Now, I just have to get on with my writing - practicing what I preach ....

  10. I loved this post, Jacqueline. Eloquent and to the point. I'm going to share it because I think it will resonate with all of those wishful writers out there. Writers put themselves out there every day, but aren't we lucky that we have the opportunity to do so.

  11. from Jacqueline: Yes, we're very lucky, Cindy - which is why it's important to just sit and write, if that's what you want to do. There are too many people in the world for whom this freedom is just not available.

  12. Not only does this put my life in perspective but gives me courage to face and overcome fears. By the way it is ok to make mistakes and fail. Failure teaches us to make our next move better and if we are not making mistakes then we are not living and learning.

  13. FYI: the US title of this book is Child of the Dark.

  14. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

  15. Absolutely, FEAR is relative, but no one's fear is any less than another's at a given moment or during a given crisis. How about the fear that what skils and talent you may have can be taken away from you. Sure it is singular to you, just one person, and it may not be a physical bomb but it sure is a psychological one when the Gods of the Artist decide for you that you are not going to be able to carry on with that which you are most passionate about in this life such as writing, painting, sculpting or whatever. It is a devastating bomb right to the brain and one's heart. Beware of losing control of either. Horror for a writer is being unable to write, for a photographer being unable to shoot.

    Rob Walker

  16. This piece is a good reminder that most of us able to read the post and think about it are fortunate to live in a safe place where we can pursue our dreams and interests without fear. I count my lucky stars often to have been born into my part of the world. Great post.

  17. Thank you for this pep talk. Like all the others I really enjoyed it and will reread it whenever I need a bit of perspective on things. I enjoy writing for pleasure (3 unpublished novels to date) and tend to feel guilty that I'm not more ambitious. I'm really enjoying The Naked Truth ... And especially your posts 😊

  18. All RIGHT Already, Jacqueline. I'll write already. Thanks for the kick in the patooty.

  19. from Jacqueline

    Thanks to you all for taking the time to come along to Naked Authors, read our posts and comment . This post seemed to strike a chord with many readers - and if it inspires more of you to just get on with writing, if that's what you want to do - well, that's good thing. This world needs all the creative energy it can get.