While at an author talk on fairytales and the writing process at my university, a question came from the audience about writing challenges, sensitively, and how to overcome both. The author smiled warily and paused before answering (and this is not quite verbatim), “You know, I struggled a lot with finding a voice in the process, and tuning out critics who didn’t care for this kind of storytelling. I can’t quite tell you how to move past those fears or be less sensitive, because chances are- if you’re drawn to writing, you are a little more sensitive anyway, and you’ve learned to embrace that as part of what you do. It’s okay.”
The statement struck me with all sorts of memories, the first of these being the descriptor from my previous job managing an authors’ community: “must have good bedside manner: authors are sensitive creatures and known for their moodiness.” In the most negative connotation, this can sound like chiding for melodramatic behavior. But then, I had to admit, all authors have a flare for melodrama, don’t they? It’s not our fault, really- it is part of the makeup of creating something. The double-edged sword of art is the confidence to build out of thin air, and the crippling fear that you have created it wrong.
I’ve written longer than I had means to form words on paper, and used storytelling as a harbor to deal with a sometimes difficult childhood. Writing helped translate many of my personal anxieties into something more tangible, making them less scary. Ironic that writing can become, in its own way, a new form of stress and worry. We begin to fret and fuss over our own skills, how our audience views us, and if we live up to the very expectations we place upon ourselves.
I’m no exception to the rule. I am the most and least happy when I want to write; the writing itself is a joyful process. Editing and revision less so, and boy, do I ever hate working on middles. I can become so wrapped up in the process of not writing and the guilt I feel when not writing, that I work myself up into a sad frenzy. “That’s it- I’ll never write again. Been a nice ride, but clearly, I have used all the talent. I am a fake, a fraud…”
And that’’s never true, is it? We always end up back on the grind- pen to paper, fingers to keys. We find our way back into the land of make-believe eventually. A failure in creating is when we give up, after all, not when we make something less than desirable.
During my time as a community manager, I heard a lot of stories from authors. So many emails and comments about emotion turmoil, mental illness, or just good ol’ self-doubt. About coping, drinking, and all the bad and good habits we’ve accrued in hopes of finding a short route to art. But on the business front, I was often asked why “x author here” was acting this way. Why are artists so damned quick to sadness, or anger? Why do they need all this… encouragement?
And I couldn’t help but wonder, just for myself, how much better it was knowing I wasn’t alone. How comforting was it knowing that other writers struggled with the same worries, doubts, and fears.
There is a part of the world that disregards ‘sensitive’ folk as tenderhearted, as something flawed. We discount these nervous behaviors as odd, but what if they are as much part of the writing as the writer themselves? What if it is that very anxiety that drives us to do better?
Not to say you should cripple yourself with worry and doubt, but rather it’s important to recognize that those doubts and worries don’t make you a bad writer, and they certainly don’t make you a bad person. Caring about what you create means far more than to have never cared at all. There is bravery in continuing in spite of writing woes.
So, go ahead: write the scene that scares you most, press forward in miserable revisions, send out query letters even if you fear rejection.
Find someone whose shoulder you can cry on, find a writing tribe who gets that you aren’t out of your mind for despairing over your imaginary friends.
Make yourself a fresh cup of tea or pot of coffee- spike it with something strong, if needed, and keep going. Courage, dear heart.
Caitlin Jones is an author, film editor, and lover of all things Victorian and fantastic. Please check in for information on her upcoming series.