The Middle: Afraid of My Shadow

Last week I started a “dilogy” (a lazy trilogy), so this is the second part of Toning The Muffintop: The Flabby Midsection of Your Novel.

Here are three quick tips so we can get right into the meat of it.

  1. Some people love structuring their whole novel. Some hate it. Some people fall somewhere in the middle. It depends on how you write best, so find what works for you.
  2. If you get stuck while writing the middle, think of the worst possible thing that could happen to your character, and have some fun with it.
  3. Think of the middle as three acts instead of one big act. And suddenly the middle isn’t as drawn-out.

I trimmed my advice into those three points. The rest of this blog post is going to be a little different than usual. And a little more vulnerable.

What do I mean by that?


 

Trees that line the drive


Let me start at the beginning

I’ve been a writer since I was about twelve. I could brag about all the times I’ve been published, but that doesn’t really matter…

What does matter is how I act when it’s difficult. When the words don’t flow. When I don’t want to write. And what’s difficult to admit is that for a period of two years I let fiction writing take a back seat to the everyday mundane routine.

And my creative mind atrophied.

Sure, I write every day for my job in marketing, and creatively at that. That’s helped keep my mechanics and parts of the craft sharp.

But it’s not fiction. That’s different.

About six months ago I decided I needed to rediscover the passion I’ve always had. I thought it would be love at first sight… all over again.

But it’s been more like couples’ counseling.


 

Treetops


Overcoming the fear of writing

I would rather comb fleas off an angry King Kong than have someone say, “Your writing is as emotionally moving as a houseplant.”

And for a couple years I allowed myself to be crippled by that fear… the houseplant fear, not the ultra-specific flea-grooming fear.

Not to detract from that terrifying situation.

So I never put pen to the page in fear of the accidental blots that were bound to stain my work. I was sure people would judge me.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I am afraid of failing.

I hate structuring my novels. I’ve told myself for years that I work better when I improvise, or that structure stifles my creative process, or that I don’t want to know where the novel is going – it’s fun that way… but I made that decision out of fear.

I was afraid of not finishing my novel, and if I ran out of direction one day, that would be easier for me to swallow than for me to admit I knew where it was going, but I gave up because I was afraid of failing.

And that fear has held me back.

Every writer faces those fears.

Nobody likes to admit it, though.

Deep down, we’re all still that child scared of monsters lurking under the bed. But to our friends, we want to be seen as a hero with fearsome wooden swords and blanket-capes.

I’m going out on a limb and admitting: deep down I’m still a child afraid of my own shadow.


 

Kid on the train


Writing with courage

Published, not published… that won’t remove the fear. Only recognizing the fear, accepting the fear is there, and addressing it head on.

It’s taken me a while to realize this, but courage is not the absence of fear. It’s pushing forward in the face of fear. I will always be afraid of writing a terrible first draft. It feels like proof that I’m a bad writer.

But I will continue to write terrible first drafts regardless. And then edit decent second drafts. And good third drafts.

I told my friend I would pay him $50 if my novel wasn’t completely structured by noon on Saturday. I can choose to be frozen in fear and be out $50, or I can work my butt off this week.

So it doesn’t matter how many shadows are cast on my wall, I will finish.

Don’t try to figure out how to get rid of fear… that’s impossible. Put something in place that makes you push ahead in the face of fear, and in the face of creative atrophy, and in the face of deadlines.

For me, the push I needed was $50.

And if the motivation is difficult for you, look at this.

If you’d like to structure your story, great. If you’d like to wing it, great.

But if you make that decision based on fear… then I hope King Kong mauls you when you groom his next flea.


Question of the day: Am I alone in my fear?

9 Comments

  1. Hardly! You are definitely not alone. For me, it’s all about the fear of running out of ideas. Or is it about not being able to get the structure right at all? Okay, it’s fear of failure. Sometimes it’s fear of success. It’s taking me out of my comfort zone for sure. My zone of perfectionism. Which, as we all know, doesn’t exist, except in my distorted brain.

    I don’t mind writing crappy first drafts. It’s the second, third, and zillionth draft that haunts me. Because that’s the time when I have to make it good.

    There’s that fear again!

    Love that motivational speech. Gave me a great laugh. Thanks!

    • bdschmitt

      June 16, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one, Diane! I’m reading the book Bird By Bird, written by Anne Lamott. One of my favorite quotes so far is:

      “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…”

      I can relate to that as well.

  2. You are mostly definitely not alone in your fear. I too have been a writer most of my life, but never did anything but write some songs and start a few novels. I never finished them, until April of this year. I got tired of hiding that part of myself, and it’s a huge part of myself. Right before 2013 turned to 2014, I made myself a promise that the new idea I had would become something. I would finish it no matter what, and I would put that work out there. The last few years of my life have been many moments of facing fears, and conquering them. I finished that novel, a few months ago, and now I’m working with an editor to make it better. I want to get it published, but I know that even if this isn’t the piece that gets me there, I’m still going to write my next novel, and the one after that. I don’t want fear to define my life. I won’t let fear get in the way of my stories.

    Regarding the point about structuring, I didn’t do that much with my first novel and it showed in how many times things changed. I just went with whatever came to mind, but when it came to editing, it required a lot more work. My next novel, I’ve structured out the story and I have a feeling it’s going to come a lot easer. Doesn’t mean the characters won’t still surprise me, but on the bad days, I have an idea of what I should be writing instead of just staring at a blank screen.

    Just keep writing. 🙂

    • bdschmitt

      June 16, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      I’ve had that pain with structure as well. I need more structure rather than less, even though I don’t like it.

      How far are you into the editing process? And how did you get the editor? (friend, freelancer, pro?)

      • I self edited for two rounds, and just yesterday sent it off for professional editing. She’s a pro, but works for herself and came highly recommended by an author acquaintance of mine. Really looking forward to the experience. Pretty sure my first novel is going to need help, but hell, it’s written and that’s the hard part. 🙂

        • bdschmitt

          June 17, 2015 at 12:06 am

          Congratulations on sending it off – that’s a huge step! Yes, once you have something on the page to work with, it’s much easier.

  3. Hi there, fellow fear conquered individual . I think all self conscious people are facing the fear of not raising to their own expectations no matter in what field they perform. But it is “good” to know that we are not alone in that. Keep up the good work and don’t look for what others want to read, but what you want to write. After all, some of us we don’t know what we like until it’s up there. So put it out there and let us find joy reading you. Only then you can start to fear, not before . Good luck!

    • bdschmitt

      June 18, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      Hi Laura, thanks for your perspective! So true about writing for yourself. It’s so easy to dilute an idea if you try to write for others.

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