Writer’s Fear

I’ve been suffering from something along the lines of writer’s block lately, but I think it has more to do with insecurities than anything. Maybe I could call it “writer’s fear”?

Definition of “Writer’s Fear”: The inability to write due to the inescapable fear or insecurity that the writing will be poor quality, or not measure up to the writing of others. 

This seems silly, I know. And it’s a terrible shame because I usually really enjoy writing. When I was in China, I looked forward to writing blog posts about my experiences so much so that I caught myself composing them in my mind while the noteworthy event was still taking place. On the outside, I would be taking a bite of a strange, unrecognizable dish at a dinner party, smiling politely whether I enjoyed the taste of the food or not. On the inside, I would be narrating my own actions, thinking, “She tremulously lifted the chopsticks to her mouth, her body breaking out in a cold sweat, dreading  the inevitable moment when she would be forced to swallow the slimy morsel precariously dangling over her bowl…”

I’m just a nerd like that. Life always seems more exciting when narrated in a story, and I never felt that I had fully experienced anything until I had written it down in detail. So why am I so stuck now?

The stakes have been raised a lot higher. Now I’ve shared publicly my deep dark secret that I have dreams of being published. Now people (I don’t know who these people are exactly….internet people, I suppose?) are watching my blog (and maybe even my Facebook posts!) with a critical eye, just waiting for me to make an error, to prove that I am not worthy of being published. My friends and family are all very supportive of my writing, but it’s these other people that keep me awake at night, tossing and turning…

The other problem is that I visited a writing critique group for the first time. These people judging my writing were no longer imaginary; they were real flesh and blood, scribbling all along the margins of my paper with their pens. They told me things like, “interesting topic, but the writing could use some polishing,” “a little rough around the edges,” “way too much detail…needs to be pruned,” and “your writing is a little too academic.” Too academic? What does that mean? That is just one of the questions that keeps me from sleeping. And then when I finally do manage to fall into a deep sleep, I have strange twisted nightmares about driving down the highway on a dark, dreary road, and being pulled over by a police officer who writes me a ticket and explains in a bored voice, “I’m sorry ma’am. Your driving was just too academic.”

The people in the critique group meant well, I’m sure. Their job is to help! They tell me the things that my friends and family would be too nice to say, or perhaps wouldn’t have the expertise to tell me in the first place. They read over my piece with writers’ eyes, and they gave me their honest opinions. But I suppose I was really hoping that they would just hand my paper back to me without any marks at all, looking a little dreamy-eyed, and exclaim, “This is AWESOME. Don’t change a thing!”

The really ugly thing about this whole writer’s fear diagnosis is that it eventually leads to “writer’s envy.” I’ve always loved to read for leisure, but now I’m reading others’ writing with more of a purpose, and it’s lost some of its enjoyment. I think things like, “Look at how she phrased that so well! She’s a genius! I’m never going to be that good!” Or I read a column in the newspaper and sneer, “Look at all of those grammatical errors and cliches! That guy is a LOSER! How is he in print and I’m not?” Trust me, it can be very scary when writer’s envy rears its ugly head. I find myself unable to be happy for blogger friends who make it to 1,000 followers, or hit Freshly Pressed status. Instead, their achievements only make me feel worse about myself. I beat myself up thinking, “If I can’t even get myself Freshly Pressed, how do I expect to actually get published in a book?”

I realize that it is highly likely that I will do a lot of work, and send out a lot of proposals, and absolutely nothing will happen. Family members will see me at holidays and remark, “Weren’t you going to try to publish a book awhile back? What ever happened with all of that?” and I will hang my head in shame as I count my losses. There is really only a slight, sliver of a possibility of success in the highly competitive field of published writing, and there is little reason to think that I might one day count myself among the lucky few who get to walk into a Barnes and Noble and see their own book sitting on the shelf.

But isn’t it still worth a try? Even if I am “too academic”?

Somehow, the pastor of my church must have known that I’ve been struggling through all of these insecurities.  On Sunday he did an entire sermon on the importance of focusing on your own path and keeping your eyes on God rather than looking around at others and constantly comparing yourself with them. He reminded me that God has me exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing, and I don’t need to worry about whether someone else has been Freshly Pressed twice already, or someone else has already gotten an agent. (Well, he didn’t say those words exactly, of course, but that was how I interpreted it.) And he left us with this verse, which I’ve heard before, but never thought of quite in this light:

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles [like writer’s envy]. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

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