Some people have called me courageous because in my life, I’ve gone and lived in a variety of places, I’ve taken the plunge and tried things I never even considered when I was younger, let alone thought I could do. I lived in New Mexico for a summer, in Wyoming for a year, Delaware, Indiana, a few other places. I went rock climbing. I went to folk festivals. I wrote poems and performed them at coffee shops. I learned how to play guitar, write songs and sing them in front of people. And I had a lot of fun doing it. My achievement was not playing brilliantly but in getting over an incredible fear and letting go of my imperfections.
I never felt all that brave about any of these things. I just wanted to do something or go somewhere enough that my desire was stronger than my fear. The fear was still hovering under the surface.
I’ve always felt the same fear when “letting go” of my writing, when I had to send a story to someone because there was a submission deadline, or when I was a newspaper reporter finishing up an article for the next day’s paper. (I worked at daily newspapers for about 10 years). After the paper went to press, some stories would keep me up half the night. I’d think of questions I should have asked, people I should have called. Most of the time the articles were fine. I’m a perpetual worrier, though, and I have made mistakes, sometimes big ones. When your byline appears on the front page of a paper with a 50,000 circulation, that means 50,000 potential readers, 50,000 potential criticizers.
Thing is, when you’re a reporter, that’s what you do. You write every day. You have to or you don’t get paid. When you’re “just” a writer on your own with no outside pressure, you can write or not. Even if there’s a deadline for a contest or some journal’s call for submissions, if you don’t finish, no one knows except you. That’s one reason why when I took writing classes I would be more productive. I had to; they expected it of me. So my fear was overcome by some outside pressure, and when I didn’t have that pressure, that “reason,” it rose up again.
Truth is, even if no one reads it, I do feel personal satisfaction when I finish a short story. Or sometimes even a good blog, although it’s not quite the same thing. Why that’s not enough to move me out of the fear zone, I’m not sure. I have a voice that says, “You are a writer,” and another voice that says, “You could be a writer.” What? That makes no sense.
I am writing fiction. I wrote yesterday and I wrote today, and that’s good. It’s flawed and horrible. I will write more bad fiction tomorrow. Eventually some of it will be mediocre or maybe even good, so I’ll edit and make it better. That’s how it usually seems to work.