Why You Should Be Writing Scared

Why You Should Be Writing Scared

It’s my belief that writers should be writing scared pretty much all the time. In fact, a constant state of terror would be optimal.

When you sit down at your desk and extend your hands to your keyboard, a little tremble should shake your fingers. Your heart should be pounding just hard enough that you find it a tad difficult to draw that first (or second or third) breath. A little dryness of mouth, a little dampness of face, a little quiver in the abdominal region—these are the symptoms of sheer, unadulterated panic.

These are the symptoms of a good writer.

Why Writing Scared Is Such an Important Part of the Process

At first glance, this might seem like I’m spouting so much craziness. After all, fear usually isn’t something one cultivates, much less enjoys (unless, of course, you happen to be a bull rider or an Xtreme skier or an African lion hunter).

Very likely, you chose the role of writer so that you would be able to narrate safely from the sidelines without any worry about facing gut-clenching, shiver-inducing nightmares up close and personal. But I’m here to tell you that if you ain’t writin’ scared, you ain’t pushin’ the boundaries.

Nim's Island Jodie Foster Gerard Butler

Black Hawk Down Josh Hartnet Ridley ScottWhenever your comfort zone starts getting too comfortable, it’s a sure bet you’re no longer challenging yourself. Writing scared means pushing yourself to the limit, tackling projects that look unconquerable, and always forcing yourself to go just a little bit farther than you think you’re capable of going. In the May 2009 issue of Writer’s Digest, Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) wrote:

I’d also advise writers to always be working on the most ambitious thing they’ve ever done. If you do that, your skills will consistently improve.

How Far Are You Pushing Your Comfort Zone Right Now?

When it comes to writing I’ve got the wanderlust. I’ve no interest in visiting territory I’ve already covered. I want to journey on, see new sights, discover what’s over that next horizon. With every new project I begin, I make it a point to push myself to new heights.

I want each story I write to be completely different. I want to meet characters I’ve never met, not just rehash the old standbys. I want to tackle themes that are always a little bigger than what I already have a handle on. I want to attempt narrative feats that seem all but impossible at my current skill level. Life’s too short for me to run in circles chasing my tail. That might be comfortable; it might be familiar; but it’s not it’s not exciting and it’s not challenging.

How to Write Through the Fear to a Better Story

Crime and Punishment Fyodor DostoyevskyDon’t get me wrong. Despite all that nice adrenaline, being scared isn’t very much fun. It’s easy to be assailed by doubts and insecurities. It’s even easier to make excuses. Well, Dostoevsky could get away with writing a dark novel with a rambling, insane hero… but he was Dostoevsky!

Every time I reach the middle portion of a novel, I go through a terrifying sinking spell in which I’m absolutely, one hundred percent, dead-to-rights certain I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. But even as I’m wandering around in search of someone who can perform the Heimlich maneuver on me when I start choking, I also keep writing—and challenging myself—and rewriting—and growing.

By the time I reach the end of the novel, I’ve not only learned how to swallow, I’ve also written a story that—although still a long ways from perfect—is better than anything I thought I’d ever be able to write. That’s a cycle of fear that’s most definitely worth repeating.

As I sit down at my desk to begin what will be my eighth novel, I have every intention of pushing the envelope as far as I can. And I have no doubt whatsoever that I will spend most of the winter and part of the spring in abject terror. If you see a writer running around with bloodshot eyes and hair frizzed out on end, it just might be me. Or—if you’re lucky—maybe a second glance will show you that the wild-eyed writer is your own reflection in the mirror.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Are you writing scared? What has you scared in your current project? Tell me in the comments!

Why You Should Be Writing Scared

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Ah! You caught me! :O

  2. Great post – thanks! I absolutely believe I have to keep biting off more than I think I can chew if I’m going to keep improving. And at the moment, I’m in that horrid what-the-hell-was-I-thinking middle part of my WIP. Great fun…. Brings to mind the expression “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. 😉

  3. None of my stories has killed me yet, so I guess I’m on the right track!

  4. Inspiring post! I regularly feel like this, but need reminding that this is normal in a questing writer. In fact, just last night I had an idea for a novel I really want to write – the kind of big idea that could keep me gainfully occupied for multiples of months, but I need to learn such a lot in order to do it. But your post has reminded me that I’ve felt like this at the beginning of many a project. So thanks for a timely helping hand.

  5. Glad the post was a boost in the right direction! Isn’t it amazing how easily we forget in between projects how scary writing is?

  6. I have the scared part…not sure if I have the writer part in me. In fact, the more I read about authors the more I feel like I’m not a writer or have the stuff to be one. lol. Well, I suppose that may have something to do with having books in my head and outlined but not written.

  7. I have the scared part…not sure if I have the writer part in me. In fact, the more I read about authors the more I feel like I’m not a writer or have the stuff to be one. lol. Well, I suppose that may have something to do with having books in my head and outlined but not written.

  8. Do you know what the only qualifier for being a writer is?

    Writing!

    Don’t worry about “measuring up.” Just write – and study – and learn – and grow – and have fun. The rest will fall into place in its own good timing.

  9. Good observations!
    Academy award-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis once said in an interview that the only projects he’s interested in taking on, are ones where he’s pretty sure he has a good chance of failing at.

  10. Jim Arnold says

    I’m scared half to death that I come across like I don’t know what I’m talking about. The strange thing about that statement is that I spent 20 years in the military and I’m writing a military story.

  11. Anne Kaelber says

    I’m currently drafting the first novel in what (I hope) will be at least 13 books. The series arc involves a war as well as some pretty challenging background mythology. As if that’s not quite enough, one of the main characters in the first book is an author, who is unaware that some of her dreams are prophecies — and they always come in threes: past, present, future — and she uses these dreams in her writing. I’m so tied in knots, questioning if I can do this! But, oh how amazing it will be, if I can pull this off! *chug chug chug* I think I can! I think I can! 😉

    Anne.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Katie Weiland understands me, even when no one else does. In her upcoming book Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration, Katie quotes this excerpt from her blog post “Why You Should Be Writing Scared“: […]

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