Face Your Fears

Hi, Everybody!

I am pleased to announce that I will now be a regular contributor to the RMFW Blogs. I am really excited and proud to be here. There are so many wonderful members of our organization. So many writers, authors, and publishers that I look up to. In fact, in many ways, I feel like I’m walking with giants – and it’s a little scary.

Fear.

It’s the worst four letter F word I know. At times it can be your friend. At times it can be the shackles that hold you back. Today I want to write about fear.

I am 46 years old. I’ve accomplished some things in my life. I’ve accomplished many of the goals I’ve set out for myself in my life. I’ve also failed a lot, too. But as I look back on the road markers of my life, I realize that every major event where I came out triumphant occurred because I stepped out of fear. Applying to my dream college, asking my wife to marry me, my work as an actor (ok, a set extra – but I acted!), and everything else was directly related my decision to act in spite of my fear.

I’ve got a little secret to tell you. See, evolutionary biologists tell us our brains have a negative bias. That means we are inherently conservative in our actions because it’s what kept our species safe over tens of thousands of years.

Our ancestors told crazy caveman Larry, “No, we are NOT attacking the pride of lions with clubs and sharpened sticks.”

Our ancestors chose to continue planting the grains they were used to instead of that new-fangled grain the foreigners brought.

Our ancestors chose to play it safe because that consistently paid off.

But guess what, we don’t have to do that anymore. Now, I’m not talking about paying in traffic people, but that skip of the heartbeat, that breathlessness we get that lets us know something isn’t right, we can choose to ignore that.

See, our primate brains still act react to social situations as if there’s a wolf pack around the corner. It doesn’t know how to react any other way. And that can be really helpful – when there’s an actual wolf pack in the area! But there isn’t. So why do we give into our fears?

The last three days of May I freaked out – hardcore. For the first time, I decided to enter The Colorado Gold Contest. The story had been written a year ago. I had taken it to critique group, even had a former judge peruse it. But I waited until the afternoon of the very last day to turn it in. I was scared. I started procrastinating by calling old friends, watching YouTube videos and re-reading books. I did everything I could not to submit my four thousand words.

At times like these, you have to remember that the thing that scares you is the thing you are supposed to do. That fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing status or prestige – are all illusions. The things that matter in your life are still going to be there whether you step on stage and sing or run away. More importantly, if do choose to stand in that state and make a fool out of yourself your friends are still going to be there.

Will it hurt? Probably. Will it be embarrassing? Possibly. But all suffering is redemptive and you’ll be a better person for the scars. You’ll learn and do it better next time.

You know what’s awesome about writing? If it doesn’t work out, you can always hit delete. You can always re-write that WIP, start a new story, query another agent, or submit to another contest. There are endless opportunities to write well.

Will it be hard? Yes. But hard is relative. Will it be “Shoveling horse manure in Missouri,” hard? Probably not. Will it grate at your ego? Well, only you can answer that.

The point is you have a unique opportunity to tell a story only you can tell. Don’t let a little fear get in the way of that. It takes courage to write – especially today. It took courage to look up RMFW. It took courage to start reading this blog. So we already know you’re a courageous person just for being here! Now let’s continue to be courageous.

Christ Batty, the founder of NaNoWrimo, is fond of saying “The World Needs Your Story.” I couldn’t agree more. All you have to do is make a habit of it. Write a little a day, even if it’s just a page. Then, join a critique group. Meet new friends who will support your writing. Go to conference in September.

You’re probably wondering if I submitted my first 4K to the contest. I did. I clicked submit at 3:19 PM on May 31st. I got in under the deadline – in spite of my fear.

 

 

Top Things That Scare the Words Out of Writers

BooHappy Halloween or Oct 31st, depending on your preference for the spooky. In honor, I've created a list of the things that go bump in the night and often the day for my writer friends. Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  1. There is less than 20 hours until NaNoWriMo starts
  2. Editors who change deadlines from Jan 2 to Nov 1 (yes, this is my life)
  3. The editorial letter (which always seems like the longest email in the history of emails)
  4. Agents. In general.
  5. Non-compete clause in a contract
  6. Lifetime rights
  7. PW No Star Reviews
  8. Amazon's rating system. Who thought up the cruel 1-5 star ratings? Sadists, that's who.
  9. Roving Goodreads reviewers
  10. Typing THE END
  11. Typing the first word in a new work. Mine is usually a swear one.
  12. Failing
  13. Succeeding
  14. Pitching in an elevator, that then get's stuck between floors after the agent/editor says the idea sucks.
  15. Query letters
  16. Reader expectations
  17. Having 40k done on Nov 30
  18. Paying for college tuition for kids off what we make as writers

BOO! Your turn. What scares you?

Things That Keep You From Writing: The Fear Factor

 

FEAR"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." ~Frank Herbert, Dune

Today's motivational writing post is brought to you by the emotion fear.

Fear is a tricky emotion. It doesn't always manifest with a pounding pulse, shaking hands, and chills up and down your spine. Sometimes, when it comes to writing, it can masquerade as boring, ordinary, avoidance.

You sit down to write. You open up your manuscript. You stare at it. It stares at you. You feel a sudden need for another cup of coffee. Or maybe a snack. Brownies would be good. You don't have any brownies in the house, but there's a box of mix in the pantry. Or, better yet, you have a made-from-scratch recipe which will allow you to feel creative and virtuous for eschewing chemicals and the make-it-quick mentality of our modern society.

While the brownies are baking you have a good thirty minutes of writing time, but it occurs to you that the dishes need to be done and the floor should be swept. The cat rubs around your ankles. When was the last time she saw the vet? You can't remember. Maybe she needs shots. Rabies would be a terrible thing. That horrible scene from Old Yeller is permanently etched in your memory and the thought of a rabid cat shredding you with her claws is terrifying. You don't own a gun, unlike the Old Yeller kid. Maybe you should think about that. What would it take to own a gun?

By the time the oven alarm goes off to let you know your brownies are ready, you've researched vet appointments and guns.

Now you have brownies, though, and it's time to go back to writing.

That manuscript is still staring at you. There's a small uneasiness in your belly. A sudden desire to go outside. Or vacuum. Forget vacuuming, the carpets haven't been cleaned in forever. This really is the day to go rent a carpet cleaner and get that done.

Of course you really want to write and you're very sad that life keeps getting in the way, but that's just how things are...

Next time you sit down to write and feel this huge resistance thing going on, consider staying right there in your chair and checking out your emotional state. What is your body telling you? Can you feel the tension of resistance in your shoulders and your thighs? Is there a weight in your belly? Or butterflies?

Take out a sheet of lined paper or a notebook, if you have one. Get a pen. Now write, at the top of the page, these words:

I am afraid that...

Now free write for five minutes, keeping that pen moving and not stopping to think about what is going on the page.

In my world, it's going to be something like this:

I am afraid that I can't write this book, that it's going to suck, that I'll lose all of my contracts and my former readers will hate me. Maybe I have Alzheimers or something and have forgotten how to line up words on the page. I'm afraid that everything I've ever written is horrible. I'm afraid this book is too big for me. I'm afraid I won't get done in time, that this deadline is too tight, that I've bitten off more than I can chew...

Whatever your version of the fear may be, this emotion is a strong deterrent to writing.

Anything.

Ever.

And the only real solution I know is to push past the fear. To write through it. I find that this is easier if I write every day. It's like that old "get right back in the saddle after you fall off the horse" cliche. The longer you wait, the longer you let the fear keep you from the page, the harder it will be to overcome it.

Here are a few methods that have helped me get past my fear.

  1. Write something. Anything. If the manuscript proves too formidable, write something else. A blog post, say. Or some free writing in a journal. Anything that gets the words flowing and begins to dissolve that big, cold, lump of fear labeled I Can't Write.
  2. Actively give yourself permission to write crap. Yep. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and consciously tell myself, maybe even out loud, "Go ahead. Write something that sucks."
  3. Make friends with the fear. Talk to it. Bribe it with treats. Name it, even. Because it's probably not ever going to actually go away. Ten books down the line it will still be sitting on your shoulder, much like Poe's raven. So you might as well get used to it.

And that's about it. I've made a little permission slip for you, to help you get started. Print it off, put your name on it, sign and date it, and keep it where you write.

Permission Slip
Permission Slip

Never Give Up

Whatever you're writing, wherever you are in the writing process or in your career, I have two pieces of advice for you:

  1. Finish the book
  2. Don't ever give up.

Nobody said this writing life was going to be easy. I don't need to tell you about the obstacles – you already know what they are. Only you know how strong your personal demons are and how much energy it takes to overcome them every time you sit down to write. Only you know how hard it is to summon up enough faith to send out one more query. Only you know how deep and dark your doubts are when you're wide awake in the middle of the night.

Don't let any of this stop you. If you have the passion, if writing is the one thing that makes you feel fully alive and present in this world, then you must keep on.

Write on the days when the words flow as easily as water. Write on the days when it feels like every word has to be dredged up from your toenails. Write on the days when you feel like the painted ship upon a painted sea, when words are sludge and hope is gone and you know for certain that nobody in their right mind will ever read this tripe you're smearing on the page.

Some of you are doing Nanowrimo this month. Maybe you're blazing trails and have left that 50k word count goal in the dust. Maybe what you're writing is sheer brilliance and you are riding a writing high. But if you happen to be three weeks into Nanowrimo and your word count is falling behind, don't give up. Keep writing. If you can't quite make the word count, focus on making a word count.  If the end of November comes along and you've only got twenty-thousand words, or ten, that's more than you had at the beginning of the month. Keep going. Don't let some airy-fairy idea of failure make you stop.

If you're above ground, if you're still writing, you haven't failed.

And when you finally finish your draft and you read it and you're sure it totally sucks, see if you can make it better. Then move on and write another book. And then another and another. Focus on making every new book better than the last.

I'm not saying you shouldn't revise the sucky draft. You probably should. Most first drafts are wormwood and despair. They need a lot of work to turn them into masterpieces. By the time I'm done revising and rewriting, I generally have as many words in what I call my "Darlings" file as there are in the finished novel.

But there is a danger in getting fixated and stuck on one novel. I see writers working on the same book forever and ever, like they're Sisyphus pushing that damned boulder up the hill, day after day after day. The energy leaks out of the book, or it becomes a convoluted mess. The writer lives in a state of desperation and despair. This is not good for either book or writer.

Sometimes you have to step away for a bit. Find a new idea. Write another book. And then another one. Every book will teach you something new about your craft and lead you closer to mastery. And then, maybe, one day, you'll go back to that sucky Nanowrimo draft and realize you now have the skills you need to fix it.

Look what I ran across the other day:

 

winner

Notice the date. Yep. Dead Before Dying was written five years ago, and is just now on its way to publication. Since the time that draft was completed I've written four other books and three novellas. Dead Before Dying had to wait its turn until I'd figured out what it needed. That first draft was a mess. The POV was all wrong. It didn't fit any genre category known to humanity. And Maureen, my feisty lead character, wasn't even in it.

I didn't know any of that. All I knew was that something was wrong with it. I never abandoned it - I always knew I would come back to finish it. But I had to go build some writing chops on other projects.

My point with all of this is exactly what I said at the beginning. Whatever you're writing now? Finish it. And then write something else.

Don't stop.

Don't give up.

Writers write. You are a writer. So go do the thing you're here in this world to do, and don't let anything or anybody stop you.

 

Why the Itsy Bitsy Spider Is a Bad Metaphor

By Jeffe KennedyThe Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy

Now that summer is here, I start my mornings by watering the potted plants on the patio, which always sets the spiders scurrying away. I don't worry about them, because I know they'll come back to their webs and continue spinning and weaving. I do worry about the finches, who love to build their nests in the hanging baskets. I have to find spots to add water so I don't chill the eggs or drown the hatchlings.

Spiders, though, can take care of themselves pretty well.

But it puts me in mind of that old nursery rhyme, the Itsy Bitsy Spider.

The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and
The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

It's a playful song, especially if you add the finger games to it. And it's apparently about fortitude and determination, not letting set-backs keep you down forever.

The thing is, however, it's not a useful metaphor in the end. A spider continues back up the spout mindlessly, by instinct. It has no memory of the rain or ability to conceptualize that it could be washed away again, over and over, even drown in the next deluge. The metaphor fails to take into account the devastating emotional impact of being literally or figuratively washed away.

Lest you all decide I'm overthinking a child's nursery rhyme, I want to point out that these things stick with us. Particularly if we don't examine them. My favorite religious studies professor in college said that most people never grow past a five-year-old's understanding of their religion. By that he meant that we learn the pretty, simple stories, internalize them and never return to ponder their import with the critical analysis and study of an adult mind.

The advice to simply get up again after failure, to just keep going or try, try again! can be more painful than helpful. Especially for creative types, coming back and continuing to offer our art to the world after rejection or failure is not a matter of mindlessly climbing back up the spout. It takes a tremendous effort to experience pain and walk towards it again.

It's not only about waiting for the sun to dry up the rain - it's about finding it in ourselves to overcome fear and be creative anyway.

Keep spinning and weaving, writer friends!

Facing Fear of Failure

By Jeffe Kennedy

The Talon of the HawkThis is the cover for my next TWELVE KINGDOMS book, THE TALON OF THE HAWK. It comes out May, 2015, but the Addicted 2 Heroines blog is running a Hottest Heroines cover contest for all covers revealed in 2014. I was thrilled they chose the TALON cover for round one, and even more delighted that it won that round! Even more, I'm really pleased that Kensington gave my warrior princess such a strong pose.

She's fearless and it shows.

Not so easy for the rest of us, but then our battles tend to be less overt. I was talking with a writer friend the other day about fear and how starting each new book is an act of courage. She'd tweeted something that struck a chord with me and we went back and forth about it. It was a well-timed conversation for me because I'm drafting a new erotic romance, the third in my FALLING UNDER trilogy. And this week I saw two Publishers Weekly reviews for my books. One, for UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in the FALLING UNDER trilogy, which comes out in January, is pretty good. But it penetrated my brain, little whispers of it echoing as I draft this new book. Worse, the other review, for THE TEARS OF THE ROSE, the second book in THE TWELVE KINGDOMS, which came out two weeks ago is really quite terrible. One of those deals where the reviewer did not get at all what the story meant to do. If the very same book hadn't been nominated for best Fantasy Romance of the year in the RT Reviewers Choice awards, I'd have been devastated.

As it is, I can recognize that this sort of thing is inevitable when I make bold choices as a writer. In THE TEARS OF THE ROSE I took on writing an unlikable heroine. One that most readers say they feel like slapping for the first half of the book - until they discover they've slowly grown to like and admire her, until at the end they're cheering. That's exactly what I wanted. I don't think our heroines should be perfect people. We celebrate the deeply flawed hero who redeems himself - I wanted the same thing for this heroine. I knew going in that some readers would not get this at all. We can talk about the social reasons that women are held to different standards of likability than men, but it's an old conversation. This book was my offering to that dialogue.

It took courage to write it anyway. It's hard to hear harsh criticism, even when you knew it was possible, even likely.

I think it's even more difficult to battle this fear in this age of dense social media. Everywhere I turn I see harsh reviews, pet peeves and rants about books. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on how damaging I think it is for writers to read any of those lists or articles on "tropes that need to die." The upshot is that fear of criticism kills creativity.

As I said, all of this has been heavy on my mind as I draft this new erotic romance. I'm a write-for-discovery writer. While I know my general premise, I follow the story as I write. This book is taking me to dark, angsty places. I resisted the story for a while, thinking about potential criticism. Which led to me spinning for a number of days. When readers and reviewers question why the author made a particular choice, I think they don't realize how often it's not our choice at all. It's the story's choice. At least, that's true for me - I can either follow the story or I can fight it. Guess who eventually wins?

Still, it takes courage at every stage - writing, sending out to my agent and editor, revising, release day, facing reader feedback and reviews.

If only I had a big golden sword, huh?