Reality Mom: Scary
“This is really scary,” a client told me at the end of our coaching session. Up until then, she had been funny, forthright, in a no holds barred way, confident, and exuberant. She has half of a book written, writes every week, and hired me to help her take the next step in her writing goals. Her announcement of being scared shifted her from a successful forty-one year old woman to a little girl in a matter of moments.
“I know,” I said. “But it’s also very exciting.”
In a quiet voice she replied, “I guess. But what if I suck? What if only my friends think I’m funny?”
“I wouldn’t have taken you on as a client if I didn’t like your writing. You have a strong voice and a fascinating story to tell, you don’t suck.”
She brightened upon hearing these words and transformed back to the woman she was when she entered my office.
Later that night I attended Lauren Weedman’s class at 826 on “How to Write Like I Do.” In between stories, and some instruction, Lauren continually admitted to being plagued by message boards and comments people leave about her on Facebook. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, “Why would someone as famous as her care what strangers say?” She answered my question by admitting that even though exposing her personal life and her weaknesses is the main fodder to her writing, doing so still makes her feel vulnerable. It’s still scary.
She cited a documentary about the architect Frank Gehry as being one of her greatest inspirations. Gehry’s buildings are world famous for their uniqueness and experimentation and he’s been a practicing architect for over fifty years, so it was a surprise to her to hear he still finds designing them scary. “But he does it anyway,” she said.
Due to the prolific nature of Gehry, Weedman, and my client, I didn’t think the act of creating was actually what was causing their fear. I didn’t even think it was solely a fear of having those creations criticized. Equally as terrifying, is having them praised and accepted. As my therapist once said to me, “Actually getting what you want may be even more frightening than not getting it.”
As a writer, I’ve been rejected enough to where it doesn’t phase me. Even when my work is published, I never go back to read it. And I certainly never read reviews or comments about my work, that’s a sure fire way to want to quit being a writer.
I’m no longer looking to pad my bio with more publications and instead have shifted my goal to improving my writing by focusing on craft. As soon as I did this, I stopped writing. Even worse, I knew I wasn’t writing because I was scared and not writing is my biggest fear. My entire career is based on writing, if I don’t write, I’m a fraud (even worse, an unemployed fraud).
I denied my fear for a few months and merely told myself I was “letting my work percolate.” This was true in a sense, writers do need to take a step back at times from their personal stories and memoirs, but what was also true was my goal to write a poignant, inspirational, revealing second memoir that I would always be proud of was paralyzing me.
Most artists want to produce something memorable and that they’re proud of, but this was an entirely new paradigm for me. Seeing as I have had a baby on the breast or a kid underfoot for my entire writing career, merely carving out some time to write was my goal. If what I wrote was sort of funny or at least heartfelt and only had twenty typos, I considered that a success. At least I wrote something more than a grocery list. My writing was purposely raw because I wanted it to be accessible and capture how I felt in the moment. I didn’t revise, I didn’t analyze, I merely bared my soul for an hour.
But now, I want to be good. I want to write sentences that make people pause and think. I want to write a memoir about loss and fear and letting go and even more so, I want people to be moved by this memoir. Feeling that this may actually be possible is more frightening than being ridiculed on Facebook or rejected by sixty editors. Because if I succeed, I’ve impacted people and perhaps my writing is actually worthwhile. Maybe it will help someone make sense of a part of his or her life or feel less alone. These readers may actually think I’m insightful and smart and sort of have my life in order. They may invite me to come speak at their college or on the radio where it will be quite apparent that I am bumbling through my life just like they are. This is terrifying, but is also a “princess problem,” as Lauren calls them.
Although it feels like a lot of pressure to have people be moved or care about what I write, it’s also the reason I write. If the opposite occurs and my book sucks, or worse, is completely disregarded then yes, perhaps I’ve failed at achieving my goal of writing a poignant book, but at least I didn’t fail myself by not writing it in the first place. Not writing it at all certainly leads to failure. If I don’t keep my dream alive, no one else will.
That’s why even when terrified, artists “do it anyway.” We continue to create and we continue to put ourselves out there, because letting our dream die, is a terror we can’t move through.
Corbin Lewars is the author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which has been nominated for the 2011 PNBA and Washington State book awards. Her essays have been featured in over twenty-five publications including, The Seattle PI, Mothering, and Hip Mama. She has been a writing coach and instructor for over ten years and currently sees clients in the old Carnegie Library Building in Ballard. Contact her for details.