How to Write Through Fear
It’s such a bizarre world I live in. I spend most of my days locked in a small room, with no one to talk to except the people in my head. I guess, when I say it like that, its little wonder why there are some days I wonder if I am actually going crazy.
I am not going crazy. I do, however, struggle with anxiety.
When you spend your life speaking to no one but yourself and trying to come up with ways to essentially f**k with those people so they don’t get the one thing they have always wanted – sometimes, just sometimes, fiction begins to slip into reality.
You spend your days coming up with new, inventive and cruel ways to keep people from their true paths, and then wonder why you find yourself in the pits of despair and questioning what the hell we are all doing this for.
When you least expect it, you have to crawl back out of that despair to find a way to give those people in your head the very best happy ever after…
I spend my entire life, tricking my own brain. Is it any wonder that there are days when I can’t figure out my own emotions?
That is probably because, they are, for the most part, intrinsically linked to those beings living in my mind. You know the ones, the ones who are being haunted by the ghost of their past, or in pain from the most unbearable heartbreak, or hiding from that serial killer that is creeping down the stairs.
Don’t worry, I know there are not actually real. But you try writing someone’s life story every day for a year and then tell me you don’t feel an attachment. Can we really be surprised, therefore, that there are days when our entire bodies and minds are inexplicably exhausted – simply from running away from our own minds?
“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.” – Deepak Chopra
There is quite a lot of evidence out there in the world that shows the obvious links between writers and anxiety. I would go into all the details, but that would require me researching, note-taking and analysing the statistics that surround anxiety and writing, and I’ll be honest here, there are some things that even my anxious brain has no interest in knowing the specifics of.
Unlike some of the horrendous beauty trends that tend to grace our social media devices, mental health issues being linked to creative minds is nothing new. Let’s face it, who didn’t know that Van Gogh cut off his own ear, or that Edward Munch (The Scream) was battling the demons inside by using paint and canvas?
Genius, talent, and creativity may be a blessing, but a curse at the same time. Opening yourself up to such vulnerability also paves the path for insecurities, doubt, and anxiety.
Deepak Chopra once said “The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”
Essentially, we are creative, imaginative people. We use the power of our minds to paint pictures with words – but those pictures don’t just come from nowhere. We use the beautiful and complex English language to attempt to make sense of the beauty, pain, and suffering that we see in the world. But that pain and creativity… can breed anxiety.
The problem comes, when we normally rational and intelligent people, mistake that anxiety and creativity for real life.
These last few weeks I have really struggled. I finished my latest novel just before the summer and tipped over from creative brain to business brain as I prepared to submit my novel to The Book Gods.
Those fabulous lovely agents out there in the world who hold my dreams in their hands, written in (I hope typo-free) arial 12 point on sheaths of paper that litter their desks. My wonderful world, colourful, painful and detailed, scrawled across the pages for all to see and see.. and all too quickly cast aside for the next ‘bestseller’ on the pile below mine.
Those Gods sit in their chairs with the dreams of many at their feet and decide who will be next. Is it then really a surprise that anxiety peaks when you are trying to write a new novel, at the same time as coming to terms with the latest rejection to cross your desk?
It’s all subjective, they say.
It’s about timing and luck as well as talent, they warn us.
They don’t, however, warn you that at least a few times a year you may start to understand why Van Gogh cut off his own ear. God knows there are times I had considered it myself. Maybe it would help… I know I don’t want to hear one more person ask “Have you got a deal yet?” or even “are you published yet?”
No sweetheart. The reason you see me walking the streets with a top-knot, no makeup and gripping onto a double-strength espresso is not because I have managed to land the deal of the decade.
Instead, I am pounding the pavement hoping that the characters in my head will stop arguing with each other so I can decide how to write said argument. Or indeed praying my own doubts and fears will stop trying to convince me that this is all a huge waste of time.
You see… I have slipped from my business brain, straight past my creative mind, straight into that anxious, worrisome character that I would normally write into my books. I have taken on the persona of Careful Kate who guards her heart and builds fences around her insecurity. My once intelligent brain, that could determine the line between reality and fiction, is failing me. It’s blurring the line, pushing me towards the edge.
But – dear writerly friends, this is not a post about self-indulgence and fear. This is not a piece that is about wallowing in those painful moments. We all get them, we all know.
This is a post about hope. About Power. About Control.
Find Your Tribe.
I pulled up my big girl pants, planned to ‘Be More Bronte’, opened my writing pad and with the wise words of a beautiful human being in the back of my mind, I sat at my desk to ‘write all the words’.
You see, anxiety used to have a hold over me. I would spiral into the pits of despair and take years to find the courage to pull myself back out. My first novel took 5 years to write. Why? Because of fear. My second took 7 months.. how?
Friends. My Tribe. My crazy bunch of misfits who all identify with the same monsters and demons. This fabulous collective of truly inspirational women (and a few men!) who were quick to point out that this is normal. These fears are normal. This pain and stress only fuels our creativity.
This amazing tribe of wonderful people who taught me how to ‘write through anxiety’.
It is November. NaNoWriMo. I should be writing 2,000words a day towards my next manuscript. The anxiety that built up during October and the pure hatred I felt towards my two-dimensional characters meant that I was beginning to hate NaNo. I dreaded the word count. Dreaded the feeling of failure at the end of the day.
Then my tribe came into play. Those wonderful people who messaged to say ‘I know you are not ok, but you will be’. Those amazing women who dropped a note to say ‘it feels hard right now, but it’s supposed to. It will feel good again.’
So, what did I do? I pulled up my big girl pants, planned to ‘Be More Bronte’, opened my writing pad and with the wise words of a beautiful human being in the back of my mind, I sat at my desk to ‘write all the words’.
All the words and any words.
I chose to write without fear. I chose to accept that my first draft is supposed to be shi**y. It’s supposed to feel unpolished and raw. Because that is where the genius is.
My story, my true story is in the small, yet uncovered moments. The hidden words and covered meanings. They are all there waiting to be found.
Under this mountain of utter s**t, is my story. My world. The one I want to share. The one I want you to see, to feel, to hear. I just need to uncover it.
My writing tribe is my family. When the world feels too much, when my anxiety is just a little too heavy to carry alone, these wonderful people prop me up and help me move forward.
Anxiety and creativity are linked with a bond that is not supposed to be severed. I truly believe that. Because the anxiety that propels us to write is born from the same emotion and understanding as compassion. That compassion is the very foundation that strengthens my wonderful tribe.
Without our anxiety, we wouldn’t be able to spot the pain in others. Or write the pain of others. Or write at all.
Today I salute my anxiety, I acknowledge it and its part to play in my life.
I thank my writerly tribe (you know who you are). My family. My friends. For seeing it, knowing its presence and still helping me see a path through the fog.
Write through anxiety. It will be hard, but the polished gem at the end of the process makes the pain so very worthwhile. But also – find your tribe. Because when the path is too foggy to see clearly, only they will help you light the way.