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.
Asnippet 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!!