So what is stopping you from being an author? Or, if you’re one already, what offers your greatest obstacles? No, it’s not Time. If your passion calls loudly enough, you can always squeeze hours from the day, no matter the siren call of Facebook or the demands of work and family. The problem is another voice is calling louder: it’s Fear.
Oh my, the terrors of creativity! Where to start? There’s that inner critic that says you’ll never be good enough, that it’s crazy suicide to stick out your head, only to have it shot away. It sneers at your aspirations, mocks your dreams. What if you write total crap? What if you have no talent? Or for some the reverse might paralyze. What if you become successful beyond your wildest dreams? Will your friends still love you? Will you be able to handle the heat?
At twenty-one, working for literary agent, Carol Smith, I yearned to write short stories for our women’s magazine contacts. (These being my disastrous dating days I had a wealth of tragi-comic material.) But Carol’s encouragement couldn’t quell my nightmares, imagining someone reading my work and hating it. Worse yet, hating me. Thinking I was stupid, boring, totally worthless. I’d have stayed in that hellish limbo if our new secretary hadn’t produced her own story within days of being hired. Nothing like a competitive panic and the fear of left behind to spur you over an artistic hurdle! Plus, I realised, by using a pseudonym no one would know I was the authorial culprit unless I confessed. Oh yes, I was very brave.
Eventually, as we writers do, I started a novel, pouring into it all my angst: hundreds…thousands…of words. It went on and on. I showed it to a couple of editors who suggested, unsurprisingly, major cuts. Shamed and crippled by the suspicion I may have exposed some tormented aspects of my psyche, I bolted to South America instead. Years later, my sister Pam and I entered the novel-writing arena, knees shaking, hand in trembling hand, as we together we dared the rejection trail.
As they progress, authors discover tricks to overcome creative anxiety, for what else is writer’s block? Write anything, they say. Just put words on paper, ignoring the internal editor that shrieks you’re spouting rubbish.
A few pages of total garbage are sometimes enough to shake loose true inspiration. My trick when I’m stuck is to scrawl a rough draft with pen on a yellow legal pad. Or – lazier – pass the stubborn bastard over to my writing partner, Pam. For some, writers’ groups help. Still, the one time I joined such a group, I found myself sweating buckets, the only person present (and the only published author besides) who absolutely refused to read her work aloud.
Five novels on I can affirm it gets easier. I know my enemy. I know the only way to defeat him is to write, although beginning any new book tends to awake the monster. The bad news: publication is half the battle in a never-ending war. Today’s authors need to become publicists as well. For a shy reserved writer, what could be worse than having to blow your own trumpet, fight against the self-effacing little girl inside that wants to shriek, ‘Don’t bother reading my work, it really isn’t very good!’?
Instead, you put yourself out there like a nightclub stripper, shaking your stuff all over the internet, luring in new readers, inviting reviews, good or bad. You grow a thicker skin. Tell yourself the writers of glowing five star reviews are amazingly intelligent souls with exceptional good taste and those who slapped you down with one or two stars can go take a running jump.
What’s the bottom line? For Pam and I, it comes down to this. If you want to write, write. Ignore the naysayers, the loudest of which will probably be buzzing about your brain. Accept that, just as with new acquaintances, for all those who think you’re brilliant, there will be others who vehemently disagree. And remember that many famous authors like Hemingway and Mark Twain discovered their own prescription for courage. Whisky. Lots of whisky.
We’re offering a paperback copy of our latest book, Million Dollar Question to one Take Five Authors reader who signs up for our newsletter here then tweets using the hashtag #TakeFiveAuthors
We’ll choose the winner on 10th March.
Best of Luck! And let us know what sparks your personal terrors!