The Fear, It Never Disappears

As far as I can tell, the hardest thing about writing fiction is that the fear I feel upon sitting down to do it never totally goes away. Never mind that I’m going on two-and-a-half years with this novel; every day I go at it is like the first. It’s like the possibly apocryphal tale Steven Pressfield tells about Henry Fonda, that even at age 75 the veteran actor would still vomit before every curtain call. Ugh.

All my life, I’ve been frightened at the moment I sit down to write.

~ Gabriel García Márquez

So I have a confession to make: I took a few weeks off this summer because, g-d it, I really needed a vacation (plus the Olympics were on and I looove me some ‘lympics). In doing so, though, I broke one of the cardinal rules you find in every single book ever written about writing, and for good reason: write every day. I knew what I was doing; I wasn’t ignorantly flouting the statute. But flout I did, and the intensity of the fear I felt upon returning a week ago surprised my sensitive little nervous system.

It’s really scary just getting to the desk—we’re talking now five hours. My mouth gets dry, my heart beats fast. I react psychologically the way other people react when the plane loses an engine.

~ Fran Lebowitz

I do what I can to offset this terrible feeling. I drink tea. I sing a mantra to my muse. I apply the soothing balms of Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, and their pop knockoff, Philip Phillips. What can I say, something about rousing banjo riffs just get me going.

I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one.

~ John Steinbeck

This helps a little, but not a lot, and so finally I think of a quote by Del Close, one of the fathers of modern improvisation. His words are written above the seats in the People’s Improv Theater in Manhattan, so that the performers can see them when they go onstage. You can read them even when facing the blindingly bright spotlights that blot everything else out. I remember seeing the quote when I would stand in front of the audience during a clowning class I took a few years back (story for another time).

This is what Del Close said: “follow the fear.”

Quotes from Ralph Keyes’  The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear.

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