Archive for May 21st, 2007

Are you afraid to write?

If you are, don’t worry. Most writers live in fear. Fear can even work to your advantage and make your writing sparkle. Fear shows passion, and passion often makes good writing. It also shows you care. The important thing is to use that fear, to control it before it controls you.

What kind of fears go through the writer’s mind? The list is long, but the most common seem to be:

* Will I pull this off?
* Are my words pathetic?
* Will I find a good publisher?
* Will I be ridiculed by readers, friends and family?
* Will I discover things about myself I’d rather not know?
* Will other people discover things about me I’d rather they didn’t know?

At every stage of the creative process, there’s a level of fear. This, by the way, doesn’t apply only to writers, but also to artists, composers—any person whose work is creative.

When I start a new book, I’m always afraid I won’t finish it. When I finish it, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a publisher for it. When I find a publisher for it, I’m afraid reviewers will hate it. When reviewers love it, I’m afraid the people won’t buy it. On and on it goes.

While writing a book, one of the best ways to reduce fear is to focus on the pure love of the craft itself, instead of on the finished product—the published book. It is important to come to terms with your fear. To see it as a friend instead of an enemy, a friend to be handled and controlled.

One problem for fiction writers is that many people, including friends and family, often assume that your characters are based on yourself. They ask, “Did this really happen to you?” This is so irritating! Especially if you write vampire novels! This can cause fear in the writer, and can even turn your words into boring, perfect little soldiers. In other words, it affects the otherwise spontaneity of your prose. As a writer, you need total freedom to express your creativity. Freedom to be honest. Honesty makes any writing come alive.

Another assumption (this, by the way, is usually a correct one) is that your characters are based on friends or family members. I remember an anecdote my creative writing teacher told me back in college. He was a successful author of many mystery novels. It seems he based one of his characters on his obnoxious uncle… Well, let’s just say the uncle in question never again stepped foot in his house. My teacher had done it in such a professional manner that there was no way of legally proving anything in court, yet the uncle knew without the shadow of a doubt that the character was based on himself. On the other hand, this is an effective way for getting rid of “unwanted” family members. Just make sure you don’t overdo it and get yourself sued.

I have a great-aunt who often says, “I can’t come to terms with you writing those horror books… You always were such a sweet child.”

I tell her, “I still am. Believe me, I wouldn’t hurt a fly. Soap operas make me cry.”

She must have read that part in one of my books where a corpse, drained of blood, is cut into pieces and stuffed into a luggage. Ah, well.

Mayra Calvani is an author and book reviewer.

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