The Fear



It doesn’t take a long time to write. I’m writing at least 1000 words a day right now, and can often do quite good work in just a couple of hours. 

No, it doesn’t take ages to write. But God, it takes a lot of courage. 

Whatever you write will reveal everything about you; about your ethics, about your class, about your prejudices, about your education. 

And even more terrifying is that it will also reveal how well you can write

This is The Fear. The Fear is what takes the time away from writers. We read other people obsessively, because we love writing, yes, but also because we are always asking, ‘is s/he better than me”? The Fear makes us go to our computer and play on Moshi Monsters during our precious, carefully guarded writing time. The Fear can stop us from writing altogether, for days, weeks, months, years…even a lifetime. 

And don’t think you’ll escape it. No matter how stupid you are, how ill-informed and instinctive of a writer you have managed to allow yourself to remain, you will still contract The Fear at some point. And the better you are; the better read, the more celebrated, the more published and reviewed, the more likely you are to get it. 

I was at a weekend retreat with a very well-known novelist (as I’ve said before, sometimes I really do have a glamourous literary life). The novelist said that they (I’m not going to reveal gender) were terrified at that point in their writing career. They had this horrible thought that they might not be ‘any good’. 

I laughed, and said that I’d heard Salman Rushdie say the same thing on Radio Four on my way to the retreat. I said,  to this celebrated and award-winning novelist, ”I don’t think that worry ever really goes away. Don’t let it get to you. If Rushdie feels that way…’ 

The novelist clutched my arm. ‘But, Mimi,’ they said. ‘Rushie’s right. He really isn’t any good!’ Shaking, the novelist went off and poured themselves a hefty glass of wine, the neck of the bottle rattling against the glass. I was laughing too hard to help.

And I couldn’t have helped anyway. The Fear is something we have to face by ourselves. 

I’d been dealing with it for weeks recently, when I heard something that helped me out of it. I was at Mass at my Catholic church when the priest had us pray that we all used our talents, whatever they were, as well as we could, for the glory of God and the help of us all. 

The next day, I wrote 2000 words. Is it any good? It’s the best I can do. I hope it’s good. But I’ll never really know – unless my religion is right and we will retain our consciousness after death. If we do, there’s a whole bunch of failed farmers, ignored spinsters, suicidal young wives, and a certain local government official (who had a wild young life in the theatre) up in whatever ‘Heaven’ might be, laughing their celestial heads off. 

For the glory of God, the help of us all or for another cause…we have to sit down and get naked. We can’t let The Fear stop us. We can’t let it win, even if we, in the end, don’t win, either. 



2 thoughts on “The Fear

  1. Yes, I know all about the fear. And in any case ‘good’ isn’t objective. One day I can read my writing (or someone else’s, come to that) and think it’s dreadful, another day it can seem not bad at all. And look at the different reviews the same book can get: one says it’s a masterpiece, another that it’s pretentious crap. My favourite rule of Natalie Goldberg’s is ‘You are free to write the worst junk in the world’ – i.e. just stop worrying about whether it’s good and get on with writing. And I also try to acknowledge the fear for what it is – all those insecurities about not being loved/valued/accepted/esteemed which so easily get attached to something as personal as writing.

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