Conquering Fear

Fear is a killer. When I think back on my life, I am crushed by the things I missed out on because I was afraid. I was a pretty fearless and stupid kid, so that’s saying a lot. But there were fears. There were girls I should have kissed. There were trips I should have taken. There were things I should have tried…or been brave enough not to try. I missed so many opportunities because I was afraid.

Fear is a natural human response. Telling someone to stop being afraid is kind of like telling them to stop having the hiccups. Although if you hiccup at someone who is scared, it doesn’t cure the fear. So, yes, fear ranks higher than hiccups in the…I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.

Oh, yes.  Fear. Fear is the writer’s nemesis. I wake up every day, and I punch fear in the testicles because I know it would do the same thing to me if I let it. I’m going to do some generalizing here. You’re going to deal with it because you don’t have a choice. Most of the writers I know…the good ones…are plagued with self-doubt. Maybe not all the time, but enough that it slows them down. They let fear take control.

Writers have a lot to be afraid about. Writing is a very personal thing. And you’re putting your thoughts and feelings out there for people to embrace, laugh at, degrade, and shit on. And it can HURT. Badly. You can tell me you don’t like my shirt. Fine. I didn’t make it. It might annoy me, but I deal. But if you hate my novel (and believe me, there are people who will hate what you write no matter how good it is), I have a much harder time not taking that personally.

We are writers. We pride ourselves on what we create. And if someone craps all over what you created, it is going to hurt. Believe it. You probably already know all about it.  Writers are weird. I can get ten 5 star reviews in a week, and all I think about is the one 4 star review and why the reviewer didn’t “like my novel”.

I am not very vain. You can call me ugly. You can make fun of my baldness. I really don’t care that much. I never claimed to be beautiful. But the words. By God, the words are beautiful. They come from someplace deep inside, and I love them. And when they are devalued, it hurts.

I’m not saying I’m the greatest writer of all time. None of us are. If we were, we wouldn’t be spending our time on Indies Unlimited…we’d be playing croquet with Michael Chabon. Being the best is irrelevant. Because no matter where you fall on the spectrum of greatness, you did the best you could. (Unless you didn’t, in which case you deserve the fear.)

Here’s my point. I think we can all agree Kafka was a pretty talented fellow. He was so afraid that he didn’t want anyone to read what he wrote. He was a writer. Writers are weird. You can do a lot of things to make yourself a better writer, but telling fear to go to hell is right near the top. You will be afraid to push the envelope…what will people say? You will be afraid to share a story you’re not sure about. You will be afraid to let real life into your writing. Or the real you…scars and all. You will have fear dripping out of every pore. Not all the time. But sometimes, sure.

One of the greatest things about being a writer is that you get to do it for a LONG time. Your typing arm isn’t gonna go out on you. You won’t tear your rotator cuff. It doesn’t matter what you look like or smell like. The words matter, that’s it. Give yourself the courage to let your words live. If you don’t do anything else as a writer, do that. Take a chance. When someone offers you an opportunity, take it. If you screw up, learn from it. If someone trashes something you wrote, let them. You have two choices. You can write, fear be damned and be a writer, or you can call yourself a writer and keep making people read that one story that you got a prize for ten years ago.

Fear is your enemy and it breeds in stasis. Do not rest on your laurels or wallow in your defeats. You don’t have time for that. There are more words to be written. Fear doesn’t go away, but you don’t have to listen to it. There are far more important things to listen to. Like that little voice in your head that says, “what if I tried this…would it work?” That is your ‘muse’. And it doesn’t listen to fear unless you allow it to.

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 JD Mader is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novel, JOE CAFÉ. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his blog:www.jdmader.com.

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Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

43 thoughts on “Conquering Fear”

  1. Ah – if only I were brave enough to write THAT book. I bide my time. Meanwhile, I tinker at the edges, shivering in my boots.

    Self-doubt? That's a euphemism. those who relate know what I mean. I doubt they have come up with the real word yet.

  2. How do you get inside my head like that? It's a dangerous place my friend, but you're probably one of the few that could pull up a chair and make a home there. Great post sir!

  3. You know what really scares me? I've allowed others to make me fearful that I'm not "good enough." Just this afternoon I was whining to my daughter that no matter what I do, I'll never be accepted at the "popular kids" table. Her reply, "Fuck 'em…why would you want to?" Damn, I love that girl…and I love this post too.

  4. I smell like raw garlic and household dust, right now. I need to get out. But it's like my yoga teacher says: "fear is the opposite of love." Believe it. Or as the Bene Gesserit say:

    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.

    Philosophical, huh?

  5. Great post! I, too, have let others make me fearful. They've also increased my self-doubt(and I didn't think that was possible-I was sure I was at maximum capacity at this stage of my life). The biggest fear is not being able to conquer it each day and continue writing.

  6. The fear that gets me is wondering how many people did read it ten years ago but just never said anything, and why they didn’t say anything, and if the next one will mean nothing to them as well. If the comments are bad, it hurts, but at least the story invoked a reaction. But imagining the people who didn’t comment because they were embarrassed for me — that’s the monster in my closet.

  7. Well-said, Dan.

    Krista's point is well-taken too. Indifference is worse than indignation.

    BTW, is there a Like button here? (or should I just Write my comments, instead of being so damned lazy?)

  8. Thanks for the great post. I think fear may be part of the reason (besides a shortage of time and sometimes the right inspiration) that I haven't finished the two books which are nearly done (both non-fiction). That would mean I have to publish them or submit them to a publisher. That might mean rejection. That would mean starting over again. Or if I self-publish, what if nobody buys my books after all the work I put into them? Then where do I go? But I do have to get hold of myself and, like Nike says, just do it! And then there's my novel which I did finally submit a couple of years ago and it was rejected. That wasn't so bad. The problem is the research to find the right publisher. Maybe I'll have to try self-publishing on that one too. But I sometimes fear new things. 🙂 Again, I need to just do it! Everyone here is such an inspiration to me that I will have to move forward or be left behind.

    1. Self publishing is the way to go. And remember, if you write for you, the audience is always satisfied. Judging yourself by sales/numbers is a dangerous game. You can sell one copy of a book and it can change someone's life. Quantity is a dubious barometer.

      1. So true. And if I can change one person's life, they may in turn change many other lives so that I have indirectly helped many people. And especially with my non-fiction, my aim is to help and teach people, not so much to entertain.

  9. Wow… I really needed to read this today! Thanks for helping me kick that little confidence gobbler to the curb. Just this week, I toiled with an entry for the "Hardinger" writing contest. I was froze… and stuck… all because one of my closest friends didn't think my last entry (to the "Rendevous") was passionate enough. That one little comment kept me tied to the desire for perfection. What did it get me? Less than 250 words I was not happy with… and self disappointment.

    Thanks for the pep talk. (Yeah… you were in my head too!) :

  10. Great article, especially since I've gotten a few 2-3 star reviews on a book I thought would be well received. Yes, fear is there, and I must thanks my fellow writers and friends for putting my head straight and telling me not to worry about it- even the best writers get bad reviews. Considering the majority of my work is 4-5 stars, I fight letting it get to me, but it does. That nemesis of self-doubt is always there. Still, I write on…

    1. Keep writing on. Bad reviews are like graffiti. You never know who did it or what the intent was. Could be jealousy even. All we can do is keep writing.

    1. Michael Chabon is a writer. He has written many great books, but The Amazing Adventure of Kavalier and Klay (I think that's it, if not, his bad for such a hard to remember title) is a book for the ages.

  11. The only thing that get me to put the fear in a box and get on is the thought that one day I'll be on my deathbed. I'd hate to not known then if I could have been a writer or not.

    But it's nice to have you rummaging around in my head JD, I feel so much more normal now.

  12. Judging by the number of comments you have struck a very raw nerve. I, too, fight fear of not being 'good enough' all the time. And the indifference of friends and family fuels that most. I have learned that lack of support from those closest is common but it sucks me dry. It hurts, man, like a vise around the gut that tightens with each raised eyebrow or shrugged shoulder.

    1. Very true Yvonne, it would be nice if the people who knew you best had a little supportiveness going on, but maybe that makes us work harder to prove them wrong.

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