Last October, I was just wrapping up my first round of novel submissions. Since then, I’ve spent every fortnight getting feedback from a talented group of writers, revising the manuscript, and preparing to come full circle for another round of submissions before Halloween.
More on the first part later, but today I want to focus on the last.
Today I want to tell you about fear.
There’s nothing that stops creativity dead in its tracks like fear. I can be as content as I’ll get with a draft, but once it comes time to share it, my anxious mind sows the seeds of doubt. My fear response talks in bold, full stops only:
Holy shit, why would you want to do that. What’s wrong with you. No.
Sometimes it also demands weed and lying inert on the floor.
The trick is not mistaking the fear response for the voice of reason. Sometimes it keeps us from doing stupid things, makes us slow down and compose ourselves, helps us to survive. Other times, when it’s speaking from anxious impulse, it doesn’t have our best interests in mind. Rather, it keeps us from doing our best work.
Those who critique a piece of writing can be just as afraid as the writer. If they know the writer personally, it’s not an easy task to break it to the writer when the story dynamics just don’t come across.
I have a wonderful friend and beta reader who admitted they felt terrible at giving feedback, describing themselves as a “cheerleader type” critic. But there are so many flavors of critique, and while they can be informed by craft, they all come down to individual opinion.
I told my friend that not only is there absolutely nothing wrong with being a cheerleader; it is so important. Anyone who creates anything needs a support main as much as they need tough love to both improve and keep going.
There’s really no wrong way to critique, except maybe having no response at all. No response means no feeling generated, and that’s the essence of good storytelling. While I’d love to someday be a bestseller, to see my name in print, or even to have the bragging rights of a published author, those goals are self-serving.
When we do things for other people that feel performative or obligatory, or that are ultimately for our own benefit, we don’t get as much satisfaction as when we do things that others find pleasurable. Art is human connection, an evolutionary imperative vital to our existence.
The goal of writing should be to make your reader feel something. Anything. The goal of writing is not to please everyone, because you can’t. I might please a few people, and that’s enough.
However, the act of writing doesn’t live and die with reaction. That depends on familiarizing yourself with the trickster nature of the fear response, and knowing when it’s just noise.
My wonderfully supportive husband once gave me a pep talk to the effect of, “You need to believe that you’re good enough to do this, because you are. If you want to make art, you have to not be ashamed to be seen as an artist. Don’t sacrifice the importance of your goal for modesty. You didn’t work this hard for nothing. So you need to keep sharing it.”
Sharing is caring, and caring is creepy. It’s okay to put your work out there, raw and strange and fear-inducing as it may feel at first.
Because when we fear being vulnerable, we risk losing the comfort and validation of that vital human connection. When we share a piece of ourselves, we become better, bolder, and more authentic artists — and people find that energy refreshing.
Maybe then, they won’t be afraid to be themselves either.