Welcome to the first Monday of the month, when we are lucky to share in the wisdom of contributing blogger Shannon Donnelly. Her post today will help get you writing this summer, despite your fears.
by Shannon Donnelly
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. . . . Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” – Stephen King
Fear shows up in a number of ways, and hits each of us differently. It shows up a lot in the only workshops I teach.
•It shows up in excuses (I’m too old, I’m too busy, I won’t try this because I don’t understand).
•It shows up in procrastination (I’ll catch up later, I’ll try the exercises after the class on my own).
•It shows up in perfectionism (I’m awful because I didn’t do this right, I failed, I suck, I’m stupid).
•It shows up in a refusal to try new things (I’ll post this old story bit instead of writing anything new).
And I can see it every single time.
Then we have the brave souls who face their fears, dive in and fall on their faces. I applaud that. Because they’re learning. Which is the point of a workshop. It’s supposed to be a safe place to try things, to experiment. Instead, I see so many writers who are afraid to spread their wings—as if one mistake is going to be a disaster.
Folks—we learn from our mistakes. Go out and make more of them.
I am amazed how many people resist this idea. They want to be praised. That’s not good. That’s not going to help you learn. What does help is the rewrite and the revision and the experiment. Try something new. Write a scene. Then rewrite it from a different viewpoint. Just because. Throw stuff out there. Try something in first person if you’ve never done first person. Or in present tense. Just try it out. Tell yourself that:
a) it doesn’t have to be perfect
b) it doesn’t have to be good
c) it can actually be really awful
Just let it be what it’s going to be.
Then read (aloud so you catch what you’ve really done) what you’ve written and look at what you can learn from what you did. Look at what works. Look at what doesn’t work. Keep the good stuff.
This happens when I cook, too. I’ve made some awful things—I once put too much baking soda into my gingersnaps. They came out Alka-seltzer hockey pucks—hard and fizzy if you chewed on one. Great for your digestion (if you needed it), and not something anyone would eat (not even the horses would go for them, despite the sugar on the outside). Learned a great lesson on baking soda from that one.
Same applies to my writing. I’ve written awful scenes (and I expect I’ll keep doing that). Sometimes the dialogue clunks like a flat tire. I’ve tried first person, third, second, even. Present tense, past tense—it’s all about stretching those writing muscles and trying new things. You don’t know what really works until you’ve tried it.
I’ve written books that are not for everyone (go read the reviews)—sometimes folks hate my character (hey, it’s better than indifference). And I worry about all of it. I still get the nerves going and I still wonder if I’m any good at any this—no amount of praise ever takes that worry away.
The point of this is you’re never going to get over your fear.
Live with it. Know it’s there. Let it flow into you and out of you again and go write anyway. Use the fear—let it keep you sharp. Let go, too, of the affectations that King talks about—which means get out of the way of your characters. Let them tell you their story and stop pushing them into plots that don’t work. Stop being so damn writerly and just get clean words onto the page.
And if you need more good words from Stephen King buy his book On Writing: Memoirs of a Writing Career. Or read more at: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/StephenKingWriting.htm
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
Her latest Regency Historical Romance, Paths of Desire, can be found as an ebook, along with her Regency romances, now available from Cool Gus Publishing. She has had novellas published in several anthologies, has had young adult horror stories published, and is the author of several computer games.
Shannon is a regular speaker at writing conferences, and will be speaking at the 2012 RWA National conference in Anaheim. She gives online workshops and is the author of Story Telling; Story Showing, an ebook that compliments her popular online class Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop.
We’ve written a lot about fear this year at Writers in the Storm. Laura Drake and Fae Rowen had a throwdown about their fear of not succeeding vs. fear of success. Two weeks ago Laura wrote about letting your characters deal with their worst fears. Now is the time to share yours, if you haven’t already. Or if you’ve discovered more. What fear is holding you back from getting your book published?