Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Slushing Through : What are you afraid of?

Pink Heart Society editor Jenna Bayley-Burke drags her hibernating muse into the ring with her writing fears, and lives to tell about it.

Nothing gets in a writers way like themselves. Nothing. Not the day job, family, a busy schedule, a dead pen...when a writer is in the zone, they can't help but let the story out. But when we're not...

I'm in a weird writing place career-wise, which makes for a hard place to write. But writing is what I do. If I were a brain surgeon, I doubt calling in frustrated would work out very well. Still, I'm not really writing, and I want to be.

So, I signed up for a mentoring class from Cathy Yardley. I tried mentoring earlier this year, and it was quite a disappointment. But, I decided to give it another go and so far, so good. The first thing she reccomended was to look at our process, what's working and not working for us when it comes to our writing.

Next came the scary assignment...facing our fears. She didn't let anyone get away with I'm afraid of failure, or success. Nothing that simple. She suggested we get comfortable, find the fear, let it out of the cage it rattled so loud we couldn't get anything done, and have a conversation. Acknowledge, find the kernel of truth and shake out the anxiety ridden hooplah surrounding it.

I started with the usual suspects.

Fear of success? Maybe a fear that the expectations will change and instead of leaping over what people anticipate, I'll be playing limbo. Except...that's what I've been doing. It's not fact that's what I want to learn to move beyond.

Fear of failure? It's funny how success and failure go hand in hand. I've learned that one person's success can be another person's failure. Fear that I've put all this time and energy into writing and nothing will come of it? I guess that depends on how you define nothing. When I started writing seriously, my goal was not to have half finished books hiding in drawers for my kids to find after I died. I didn't want unfinished business to be all they'd remember about me. (A health crisis jump started my writing, I'm fabulous now, no worries) So...I did that. They now can see a handful of paperbacks on a shelf. So my issues with failure are all in my definition.

Fear of wasting time? This resonated with me because my kids are young and need so much of my attention. It leaves little time to write and even less me-time. If the writing might never leave my office, than should I be doing it? Aren't tea parties and art projects more important? It's a hard choice, but I try to think what I'd want my kids to do in my situation, and I'd want them to make sure they took time for themselves. If you give everything away, eventually you have nothing left to give.

Fear of wasting money? We're a single income family, so whenever I sign up for a workshop, travel to a conference, even buy books, it effects the bottom line of the family budget. So far, my writing hasn't paid for itself. In some ways it does - I only advertise or enter contests with money I've earned from writing - but the writing hasn't been able to cover the high-speed internet I decided was a necesity for writing, or even pay for the desk I'm sitting at right now. It's a draw on the family income, and while I have my fingers crossed that someday Hubba Bubba and I will have matching incomes, I'm not holding my breath.

Fear of judgement? Oh yeah. That's the stuff. At a birthday party for a 7-year-old this weekend I forced a smile at a joke about being a sex expert. You know, since I write romance, I must know all about sex. Yeah. Sure. That's what I do. And then there's people who ask what you're working on, and so you give your short elevator pitch, and they come back with 'still?' Yep, still treading water. And there's the friend's sister who is convinced I'm into some kinky stuff since the dominance/submission in Par For The Course was so real and not the usual sex club set-up. Sure. My husband hasn't even read it. He'd probably want to know where the idea came from :)

Fear of not measuring up? Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner! And unlike the others, I can't talk my way around this one. Publication is the yardstick we use to measure. When we get that first contract, it's like we're toddlers, led to the pantry door and told to stand up while we twist around, wondering what all the fuss is about. Every success is another mark up the door. But it's like the younger brother stretching to compete with a sibling a decade his senior. By the time he get's there, his brother has grown taller still, or even moved out to spread his wings elsewhere. It used to be that people listened to my writing advice, but now that my string if rejections has weighed down my successes, it feels like people look at me as if I'm doing something wrong and they don't want to catch the contagious failure infection. Worse than that, I don't want to pass it on!

What's your fear? How is it holding you back?

Compromising Positions received and honorable mention in the Passionate Plume Contest. Was it the Kama Sutra yoga class, the chocolate, or something even more decadent that earned the honor? Check out Jenna's website and blog for more about her stories.


  1. Jenna honey, this post just makes me want to jump on a plane to Oregon and give you a great big squishy hug.

    One of these days you're going to find the right home where your writing voice can flourish and things will just come together. I'll be there with the champagne when that happens!

  2. Jenna --
    Huge hugs.

    YOu are going to find the right home for your voice and the right editor where you can flourish. It will get there.
    And every author suffers from fears or the Imposter Syndrome.
    Those who say they don't are lying.
    And it isn't some race. You don't have to measure yourself against someone else. As I sat in the RWA lunches, both Nora and JAK spoke about how hard it was. JAK has had to reinvent herself a number of times. Note *had to*
    It is hard but writerrs. particularly romance writers are supportive.

  3. Great post, Jenna - and I can't add to your list, you've covered all mine.

    And your Ding Ding Ding is mine, too. Guilty!

  4. Mine is the fear of not measuring up - for sure. Its always there, I just write around it...

  5. Jenna, I would take your advice any day at any time. Everything you have shared with me has been incredibly helpful and constructive. If there's anything that I think I might catch from you, I hope it would be your fun and sexy style of writing.

    Chin up! After every dip is a rise. :-)

  6. Jenna, sorry I'm chiming in late on this, but I am amazed and inspired by how you're facing your fears, head on. I've been there, and I know you'll get through it. :)