A Writer's Fear
Writing is fine. Publishing? Scary. Self-publishing? Terrifying. But just putting your writing out in the world is also terrifying. Why?
No, there’s no relationship between the goats and the fear of sharing your writing. It’s spring, and it’s time for the goat to publish, er, I mean, rut. Have sex. Reproduce. Fight. All those things.
It’s very easy to see why writing something down, and then sharing it in a public place, could incite fear. Not for everyone, of course; some people are idiots, they write idiotic things, and are super excited to share their excrement with the world.
Side note: let’s call them tuckers, a portmanteau word that shall mean “some fucker who should know better.” Of course, there are grades of tuckering: shit tuckers, war-tuckers, and so on. Please: feel free to innovate. I think it will catch on.
So: here I am, writing about the fear of writing and writing stuff that is, well, out there.
Allow me to explain how writing works. It may help you to have sympathy for your writing friends. (or even yourself)
First, there is normal, informal writing. You need to communicate with someone, and you use a typical non-high-profile platform, and the words just say what you want to say. (I assume you do not write for The Atlantic magazine, the New York Times, etc.) There is little pressure here, though you should feel free to feel anxiety about it if you’re nervous or you are using a public platform (e.g., Facebook or a bathroom wall).
Because we all have different thresholds of fear.
Second, there is formal writing. This is stuff that people who don’t know you are going to read. The appropriate response here would be ‘nerves’. Not fear, not who gives a shit: just nervous. Why?
You may be nervous about your ability to express yourself. This is healthy. Writing well is difficult. What are nerves? Motivation. Motivation to do well.
Writing that has a purpose is at least a little bit personal—no matter how much you may try to hide that with formal prose. ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ isn’t an excuse to write stupidly, although it mostly seems that way. (Does anyone use that phrase now? Does anyone still write actual letters, or is it all email written in our underwear now?)
Writing that expresses something you have to say ups the ante somewhat significantly. ‘I would like James to understand why it’s not useful to scream in meetings,’ for example. Or ‘will everyone please at least rinse their coffee cups in the break room? It smells rancid in there all the fucking time.’ There, that second one: I’ve taken the liberty of adding something personal to the message. That’s the sort of thing that ups the ante on a communication, and can result in nerves, although honestly, using ‘fucking’ may actually have the opposite effect of making you feel good about the communication. Sadly, this is delusional; the fucking bastards who are leaving unrinsed cups in the sink are going to trap you in a hallway and pull down your pants. You should feel some god damn fear, you arrogant fucker. (Just an example; I used italics. Not meant for you; that’s just my own insecurities shouting. You can relax.)
You may or may not have noticed, but most of us are hives of insane emotional stuff. (Truth: we all are, but some people don’t realize it, and some people file those feelings away in steel cabinets.) You have probably learned—though not everyone does—that randomly sharing stuff from that hive can have a poor result. Fist to face; tears on expensive sweaters; job loss—emotional writing should, in almost all cases, be done with some care. But we’re talking about the opposite type of emotion when we’re talking about fear: fear comes with sharing your more tender feelings (how it felt to finally get one over on the boss, for example, or that feeling you have when someone you don’t like makes poo-poo on the office carpet (a metaphor, of course, one of those writing tools you can use when you actually study how to communicate, but is anyone still taking the time to do that?)). Sharing your more tender feelings in writing is…tough for some of us, bread and butter for others. Introverts, extroverts. Introverts who write, especially introverts who know how to be honest with their feelings, may feel fear, terror, or even laughter over those things, and that’s all fine. That’s how it works when it works well. Leave the blustering to the extroverts, who will probably get paid for their writing, get drunk, and make poo-poo in an expensive restaurant. (If that’s you, why did you read this far? This isn’t for you; it’s for people with feelings.)
That said, I have left out the final category of fear because, despite the length of this essay so far, I am only now getting to my main point. (Because of fear? Absolutely!). A little distance is a healthy reaction when there are fuckers everywhere hoping to get your goat and make you over-share. But I digress.
The last category, the real source of deep fear for a writer, is sharing deep, uncomfortably deep feelings. These are the feelings you treasure, and, let’s face it, if you don’t write about them, you can keep a veneer of illusion on them. If you write about them, well, you’re telling the truth about yourself. If you write about them, you love them, treasure them, and you think: it’s worth the risk to share this.
Writing about such feelings is like getting on a boat to sail around the world and finding out you’re sitting in a bathtub a thousand miles from Bath, England in your underwear with your hair uncombed, and you have decided to make a big fuss about something. What will everyone think?
Ah, everyone. It always feels like you are writing for everyone, and that includes the previously referenced fuckers, doesn’t it. Fuckers who will misapprehend your brilliance, the value of your feelings, the fine polish on your bathtub.
The technical term for this is, “who needs that shit?” You; you need that shit. You need to sing the body electric; you need to dream and find out how high you can soar, you need to bleed in public because you care deeply about something.
Pity is, that stuff is too beautiful; it blinds people and you get all kinds of silly reactions, and some of them can come to you in writing that is, oh, slightly less sensitive/smart/open/fresh than yours.
So, do I have an answer to this conundrum? Hell yes. It’s this: fuck those fuckers. Write like the wind; blow them down and let them holler as much as they want. They are just straw; you are sunshine, Sunshine.
Today, we write. Love the writer; just shut up about the words, they were probably trying very hard, same as you. And if, by chance, a writer makes you feel, well there it is: the treasure that makes writing worth the risk.
Even if they make you feel awful because they wrote about something terrible. There’s a lot of terrible in the world; someone has to let us know, and they don’t all work for the New York Times (although, lately, and it just could be my own impression, that rag is really losing its grip on reality). You don’t have to trust your audience; after all, any fool can read what you wrote.
Trust yourself. You’re the writer, and if you want to lay out your truth, well, dress as you must (medieval armor is good, but underwear works, as any famous male writer from the previous century’s second half could tell you) and pound out those words. There’s just not enough truth in the world, not enough truth go around, but truth shores up sanity, heals broken hearts, helps get dreams really dreamed.
Today, we write.
If you like this; please say so; I’m much more insecure than my writing would indicate. If you didn’t like this, just fuck off, go find something you care about.
This was wonderful, thank you for the insight into your own life, and thank you for verbalising some feelings I have about the writerly process.