Last week, I found myself feeling a bit unwell over the course of a few days. I began to feel panicky and stressed, with all the cold sweats and moist palms and thundering hearts which tend to go with it. I found it hard to write, but I pushed through (and, I hope, I did all right); my thoughts raced, around and around and around like a dog chasing its own tail. I began to feel very anxious, and I wasn’t quite sure what was causing these feelings. I was worried, and my family was worried.
Then, just as suddenly as the attack had come upon me, it lifted – I’m fine now, and I have been fine for the last several days. However, I’ve been thinking about it ever since, trying to figure out what caused my mini-meltdown, in order to avoid it happening to me again. I think it’s down to several discrete things, but the one thing they all have in common is Fear. I know now that my symptoms were because I’d begun to worry that I’d made the wrong decision in life, or that I’d taken on more than I could safely handle. As mad as it sounds, I was afraid of failing before I’d even properly begun, and that was stopping me in my tracks. I now know that I can add another sort of fear to the list – the fear of being read. In fact, I think this fear is the primary one, and it’s the one I’ve found it hardest to admit to.
You might think this is a very odd fear for a person who identifies themselves as a writer to have. A fear of being read? It’s like a doctor having a fear of diagnosing (but then I’m sure that happens, too!) I know it seems crazy, but I fear it’s true. Other writers spend their lifetimes being published, here and there, in literary magazines or in anthologies, or what have you, until they break through and get ‘the book deal’. I’ve always envied them. I’ve never been published in my life, with the exception of an essay in a local newspaper and a few pieces in my school magazine. Even at that, my mother submitted the essay to the newspaper without telling me – the first I was aware of it was when I opened the publication in question to see my own words staring back at me. I had no choice when it came to the school magazine – I had to submit something because I was on the editorial committee and ‘it was expected.’ I would have dodged it if I’d been able to. Everything else I’ve ever written has sat – in old biscuit tins, or in envelopes, sometimes wrapped in plastic bags – in various cupboards, drawers and cubbyholes in the different houses I’ve lived in during the course of my life. I’m not even sure that what I’m doing now will ever be published – I hope it will – but I’ve finally admitted to myself that it’s a frightening prospect. I can’t just tell myself I’m not submitting any of my work because ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I couldn’t be bothered’ or ‘I only write for myself’; I’ve never submitted anything before because I’m stone cold terrified.
Being read is a scary thing, though, if you think about it. It’s giving people an access into your mind and heart that goes right to the core of who you are. It means people who you don’t even know, and may never meet in real life, will be able to get to know the characters and stories that you’ve agonised over, lovingly, for months – maybe years – and they may not like what you’ve created. Gah. Horrifying! I can’t even say exactly why this matters so much to me – I just know it does. I love my characters and I feel terrible sending them out into a world where I don’t know how they’re going to be treated. It must be something akin to how a mother feels, waving her children off on their first day of school. At least a mother knows her kids can come home to her at the end of the day and tell her all about how they got on. My characters might end up wandering the world, in tatters, never finding a home and never making their way back to me, and I’d be none the wiser.
At least I’ve faced up to the fear. That’s got to be a good first step. If I’m ever to realise this dream – which I am determined to do – I have to get over it. Blogging has been such a huge help in this regard – it’s great to know there are people out there reading these blogs every day, and (hopefully) enjoying them. It’s going to be a challenge, but then nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Deep breaths, baby steps and keep on keeping on!