Monday, March 7, 2011

Diving for Answers

Like most writers I know, time and its use hold importance to me. Life’s circumstances dictate time’s use and my mental athlete runs the race around the clock. Whether that race is designed for rats or not is irrelevant.
Decades ago, Frank Herbert, the brilliant creator of other worlds, made a statement that still rings true. “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 my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain.” Paul Atreides, the MC Herbert’s masterpiece, “Dune,” said it well.
Symptoms of Fear
That niggling flutter in the pit of your stomach signals fear’s presence. That quaver in a voice tells more than spoken words. Sleeplessness caused by tension-filled muscle tissue disrupts therapeutic slumber.
Sound familiar? Some form of the question “What am I so afraid of?” falls from your lips. Your mind may or may not have the answer at that moment. The question mark hangs, dangling like a hangman’s noose, waiting to strangle your forward momentum.
Our lives are bombarded with images to instill fear. We carry around cell phones just in case something happens that necessitates our immediate attention. Some people panic at the thought of not having their phones or iPads with them.
A writer’s fears are no different, except when it comes to their work. A ditch digger doesn’t worry whether his skills are good enough to get the job. The guy at the newsstand doesn’t spend time wondering if he’s up to doing his job. Most people get along each day knowing that they’re doing their best.
It’s not always that easy for writers.
What’s the worst that could happen?
For writers like me who have yet to hit the “big time,” the noose labeled fear is a constant companion to some degree. Once I’ve asked myself that aforementioned question, I must identify the immediate fear culprit. Dealing with intimidating fear requires personal honesty.
If the fear focuses on querying a market about a story, etc., I ask, “What is the worst that can happen?” If I’m honest with myself, I say, “They could reject it.”
The answer to most questions is “Yes” or “No.” It’s that simple. In this case, the real question I’m asking myself is “Is this story good enough to get accepted by this market?” Remember, the underlying fear centered on the query and the market.
Once the “good enough” question gets an answer, another question pops up. “Am I a good enough writer to have this piece accepted?” Anything less than an immediate affirmative reply reveals the real question.
Fear tends to pool deep within. Again, I come to the “Yes” or “No” portion of the exercise. The answer to this next question takes pondering because it’s asking about belief in one’s self. The final question asks, “Will I ever be any good at this or should I quit now?”
I know a lot of writers and I’ve never heard any of them say that this last question hasn’t crossed their minds. At the end of the day we all wonder if we’re good enough at something specific; writing, drawing, competitive riding, advertising, making a paycheck, etc.
Finding the value in an answer
We ask ourselves if the activity is worth it and the time spent on it. If we’ve been honest with ourselves along the way, we can answer the question about “Worth” and being good enough.
All it takes is personal honesty. I work hard at writing. I enjoy the process of putting words together to create meaningful image. If an editor rejects my story idea, at least one person has read it. I can always try to place the story again. One person’s rejection of one idea means little in the writing world. Ask Stephen King or any other renowned writer about rejection. Writers like Jane Yolen actually post their rejection experiences.
Whether the fear focuses on writing activity or studying for the next test in school, it always takes a toll. It prevents forward movement in our lives. It sidetracks our faith in our own abilities or interests. It destroys relationships with others. And it does all that with our blessing when we don’t confront it and ask the real questions behind it.
Like all things reaching out from the unknown behind that creaky door on the movie screen, fear demands our attention. The more attention we give it, the more we miss, away from that focal point.
Paul Atreides may be a character fulfilling his fated destiny, but the writer behind the character knew a great truth and shared it with everyone. “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 my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain.”
Once we understand what has been driving our hesitation, we can get behind the wheel and drive ourselves. That’s a gift we can give ourselves each day for the rest of our lives. That gift is also part of our "worth."
I wonder how many don’t realize that they’ve only been a backseat driver in their own vehicle all these years. I know it took most of my life to finally understand.
Here’s hoping I’ve sparked a bit of self-discovery or discussion among those who come to my table.
Until later, take care, all, and God bless.

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