June 04, 2012

What is there to Fear, but Fear of Ourselves?

First of all, let me say how much I have enjoyed reading everyone's comments on our fears as writers. If you haven't read the original post, you can do so here. I asked everyone what they feared most as writers, and here are the results:

Are you surprised? Let me tell you, early on the poll was leaning towards the fear of never being published. Heavily. And I thought, man I'll be surprised if that's what we all fear the most. It turns out meeting our own expectations outweighs that more material fear. Who wants to be published if the work sucks? Really? It might feel super wonderful to see your name in print, but not if you aren't proud of what's between the covers.

Craft. Craft is what we study, and covet and fight for. If you've written anything, and you know it's written well, tightly crafted, it finds a way into the world. You share it. You smile when you go back to it years later. Your style may evolve, your tastes may change, but good writing is good writing. It turns out what we fear most is never producing it.

Hemingway at work
Hemingway often equated fear of failure with fear of death. Writing was a crucial matter--a matter of life and death. To fail at writing was to fail at life. And yeah, he wasn't the most chipper of guys. He struggled. He fought and clawed to write what he wanted to write. I take two points of comfort from this: one, I'm not alone. Never have been. Two, look at what facing your fear can produce! Only some of the best works of fiction of the entire CENTURY.

Litho of Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Fear defeats more people than any one thing in the world"
"Do the thing we fear, and the death of fear is certain"
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century father of Transcendentalism, wrote on the topic of fear regularly. He believed we are all, every one of us, part of divinity, and thus able to achieve anything. ANYTHING. That is one heck of a way to take your frown and turn it upside-down. He took the fear of possibility and turned it into the gift of possibility. Potential surrounds us as writers. Only by writing can we find it.

Hemingway's favorite journal
The great writers had one thing in common when it came to fear: they kept journals. Most of them journaled obsessively. Hemingway produced hundreds in his lifetime. They put their fears down on paper, and then kept writing. Determination is what led to production. That is what led to the works we so admire today.

So, we may fear not being published. We may fear criticism. We may not be able to control those facets of writing. But we can keep writing--whether on a blog, in a journal, or on works in progress. And with time, I think we can overcome our greatest fear, because it is in and of ourselves. We can live up to our standards if we do the work.

Thank you again to all who participated in the poll and shared such thoughtful comments. I'll close with a most favorite poem of mine, a photocopy of which I have carried in my wallet since high school.
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture,
Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.
--Charles Edwin Markham (1852-1940)


  1. Thank you, Jack. Glad you enjoyed the rambling :)

  2. Wonderful post! Very nicely put, and very true as well.

    1. Thanks, Mere! I really enjoyed finding the connections between we little people and the great writers of our time.

  3. Great post! Just found out that I wasn't "following" you - : O


  4. I LOVE this post. I need these little reminders every now and then. And of course, I had to share. :)

    1. Thanks Regina!

      I enjoyed writing it. Reading a little Hemingway goes a long way to show you that you're doing JUST FINE :) Even the best felt the same way at times.


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