Fear has been one of my greatest enemies throughout my life.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of appearing foolish. Fear of failure.
Fear has been the self-inflicted setback to almost every attempt I make at progression in my art, in my health, in my knowledge. Lack of confidence, I believe, is not the cause but a symptom of this disease. The true culprit, of course, is crippling anxiety – a demon whose point of origin I cannot quite locate.
It does not matter.
For my intention is now, as it always was or always should have been, to find the means of annihilating or, at the very least, debilitating this demon.
Now, I’ve always been a quiet person, always shy and awkward around unfamiliar people. I don’t think that’s ever going to change and I don’t really care to change that about myself.
What I would like to change is my unwillingness to wade into new and potentially uncomfortable situations or experiences. I have a tendency to find a comfortable spot, make a home of it, and proceed not to move from it for years on end until some outside force forcibly removes me completely from a well-worn rut.
As it applies to my writing, anxiety rears it head often during the creative process. It creates a creeping dread as I put words to paper or screen, creates doubt as I re-read and re-read round and round what I’ve written until each word, each scene, every character and every plotline feels flat and contrived in my head to the point that I feel shame to have ever brought life to my ideas.
What’s worse is the anxiety felt even after a piece of writing has been completed. Of course there’s always that feeling, however brief, of exhalation after a story has been at last brought fully, if imperfectly, screaming from out of the brain. But after that moment of relief has passed, the fear of failure kicks in. The fear that what has been created is completely unworthy not only of praise, but of being seen by anyone at all.
It’s always been a fear of mine that once I finally find the courage to complete a novel, find the means to have it published and brought out into the wider world that it would be met with complete and utter indifference.
I understand that this is very likely what will happen.
But a worse and deeper fear is that in this same scenario, my work will be met with complete and utter derision. That I will be ruthlessly mocked for even having entertained the idea of being a writer.
I fear that my life’s ambition has been a total lie. This is what I must overcome.
As I said before, I have made small gains in fighting against my fear throughout my life.
- It took two years of high school for me to learn that it was okay to not be liked by everyone. In fact, it was not even a viable or remotely necessary life requirement. Soon after that, I learned that most people were trash and that only my true friends, those who genuinely liked me for me, were worth my time.
- Getting my first job working behind a sales counter at twenty helped immensely with my people skills, forcing me to converse daily with complete strangers. I’m still not great at it, but certainly better with dealing with other humans than I was during my adolescence.
- 400-level college writing courses taught me that critical feedback of my writing was not the end of the world. Not entirely anyway. (Though I still struggle a bit with that.)
- Moving from Chicago to Indiana to be with my (then) fiancée (now wife) not only exposed me to an entirely new perspective on life but forced me out of my mom’s house and onto my own as a (mostly) responsible adult at the ripe old age of twenty-six.
These major changes were all uncomfortable and certainly stressful at first but ultimately, put me in a better place in life. Made me a stronger person.
But I still have a long way to go.