Monday, April 05, 2010

Pantophobia: The Fear of Everything

There have been several posts about fear in the blogosphere, which I always find interesting. The two that have resonated with me lately are these:
Fear of success and fear of failure
Fear of revision

These two posts got the gears in my mind cranking, and I looked into myself. How do I deal with fear? Believe it or not, that was a really hard question to answer, because, generally, I’m not a fearful person (as you may have guessed after reading this post). But why doesn’t fear take a stronger hold of me? I puzzled and puzzled over this til my puzzler was sore.  :)

Part of the answer is that I’m an analytical thinker. Before doing anything, I ponder the consequences of my actions (or lack of action). If I can live with the consequences, then I’ll do it. If I can’t, I won’t. That right there eliminates a huge contribution to fear: the unknown. Sure, there might be some things I can’t anticipate, but I’ve still reduced the unknown to a manageable chunk, which starves the fear and changes it from a hulking monster to something the size of a squirrel.

But I think the real answer is this: I know what I do well, I know what I can learn, and I know where I need to seek help. With this, the power of control is in my hands, not Fear’s. More on this in a moment...

As both Beth and Andrew have said, there is a lot of fear in writing. Not being able to finish your book, afraid of changing what you have because you might make it worse, not being able to sell your book and see it on the shelves, etc. But there are still ways of getting beyond this fear so you can do what you really want to do. The best thing you can do is to know your strengths and weaknesses. A friend of mine has a great post on the subject.

If you don’t know what you’re good at (or not good at), then you need to get up and try it because that’s the best way to find out. It’s also where the fear kicks in, because we always fear what we don’t know. For example, I first started writing at age sixteen, and the only reason I did it is because an English teacher made me. She gave our class an assignment to write a poem, and then graded us on it. The whole idea of writing was too daunting and I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I had to either try or get an F. So I tried.  Look where I am now. :)

That said, it doesn’t mean I was gifted at writing. There was a lot I didn’t know, but overcoming that first hurdle gave me the gumption to keep trying, keep learning, and keep attempting more hurdles. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes I landed on my face. That’s the way of life, I suppose. :) But this journey helped me to learn more about myself. And I truly believe that if you know your skills, meaning, you’ve tried certain things and discovered what you do well and what you don’t, then you’ve just taken away much of the power that Fear draws on.

But, what about the things you don’t do well? Doesn’t that bring out the fear again?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because we’re back to the unknown: ‘I can't do anything about the things I’m terrible at.’ Wrong. I think that knowing what you’re not good at is just as powerful as knowing what you’re good at, because you can find ways to compensate. If you’re not good at characterization, then find a writer who is and ask her to point out where yours is weak. If you’re not good at plot, then find a writer who is and ask her to point out the holes in yours. And so on.

This compensation is huge, because it will give you confidence in yourself and your abilities (I mean real confidence here, not an I’m-awesome-and-I-must-tell-the-world ego), and confidence is a natural fear repellent. Better than deet. :)  The more you believe in yourself, the more you can focus on your work.  And the more you will love your work.  But if you doubt yourself, then Fear will find little nooks and crannies to hang on to, which will interfere with your ability to write well and eventually come between you and your project.

So, I guess it all boils down to this: if you're afraid of something, then you're probably doubting something regarding yourself.  Figure out exactly what that is, and then look for ways to compensate.  That might be learning more about craft, or finding an objective ear.  Whatever you do, don't let the fear take over.


Andrea Coulter said...

I'm always afraid that the new chapter/novel/whatever I'm working on will be terrible, that the previous lovely work was a fluke, and that I'll somehow lose whatever it was that made my beta readers and CP rave over the novel they all loved.

Best thing I do about fear is give myself an hour or two to consider it (to figure out if it's justified or if it's trying to keep me from making a mistake), then ignore it and just keep going. I refuse to live my life in fear.

Great post, thanks!

Bish Denham said...

Great post. I don't really have any fear. My issue has been more along the lines of self-doubt. I. e. that I'm not that great a writer. But I've had just enough success to dispel most of it.

Tabitha said...

Lynn - that's a fantastic philosophy. Fear will only bring you down, so it's great to see others turn and face it! :)

Bish - and you'll get even more success to dispel all of it one day. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yes! You are exactly right, Tabitha. I try to convince my students of this each year. And even though I know it to be true, it's still hard sometimes.

Excellent post!! :-)

PJ Hoover said...

Great post, Tabitha! Fear is that little voice telling us we really ought to do the things instead of shying away.

Anonymous said...

This is such a lovely post! I don't have an idea of what my strengths and weaknesses in writing are yet, but I will definitely find out and hopefully will be able to allay my own fears with practice. :]

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. Sometimes I'm afraid of rejection and other times I find myself afraid of success just as much. I worry that I can't handle all the marketing and writing with a full time job. But then I remind myself others are doing it too and I'm already working a ton at the revising/starting to submit stage, so hopefully I can handle the rejection and maybe someday the success problem. That would be a good one to have.

Christina Farley said...

Good points. My fear is that I don't have enough time to do all that I want to do.