As I sit here, writing this, it’s 5 in the morning and sleep evades me. I’ve had trouble getting to sleep all my life, but never have I woken up and been hounded by my thoughts enough to pull me away from my warm sanctuary of a bed. After two hours of trying to force myself to at least relax, here I am, so I might as well tell the world what’s on my mind.
Fear. The seemingly all-powerful emotion that keeps everyone, writers and characters included, awake at night (or very early morning). I’m not like some other writers, the ones who always knew they wanted to be authors, constantly penning fan fiction or original stories since they could hold a crayon. I was good at writing, able to procrastinate on essays and such until the night before, barely skimming the material, and somehow still managing an A or B+ despite my laziness.
I knew what they wanted. By skimming for main points and a few more obscure ones (ones that would make them believe I actually did pay attention), I was able to fake my way through just about anything. I’m not exactly proud of it, but if the subject bored me, I couldn’t help it. This began in elementary and carried on through to the end of college.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked to write little scenes and snippets of stories, and wished it was a viable option for a career, but I was also “realistic” as a kid. I knew that, no matter how much I loved reading, “author” was about as realistic as “astronaut” or the other things kindergarten teachers say you can be. The odds were against me, so I didn’t even bother to try.
When I first met my significant other, they were full of passion for their intended career and well on their way to actually achieving it. It is one of those astronaut, lawyer, doctor type careers, the rare ones that few people are able to make it to, yet here my SO was/is, making it happen. I’ve always been envious of the passion and drive my SO has, knowing since age 12 what they wanted to do.
I began writing my novel in undergrad, sure it was just a side hobby I’d never finish. I went months at a time without even looking at it, but it somehow always pushed its way back to the surface. It took complete indecision and graduating with honors in a degree I ended up absolutely hating to realize…I really wanted to be a writer. This thing that I’d pushed down as deep as it would go finally surfaced, and now it wouldn’t go away. My SO gave me the opportunity of a lifetime, telling me that I should quit working and take a year to focus on my writing. If I didn’t finish, I would have to put it on the back burner again and find a job or go back to the degree I hated.
I leapt, took the chance, and somehow managed to finish, even before my deadline. So, what am I so afraid of?
I’m terrified of being an imposter. What if I’m wrong? What if I’m not good enough? What if, like most people in this field, I can’t make a living out of this? There are so many other people who have been passionate about this much longer than I have, some with multiple full manuscripts, who still can’t make a full-time career out of it. The idea of doing anything else fills me with dread, but I can’t help feeling like such a fake.
Part of me says this is what I’m meant to do, and it will work out fine, but the other part is laughing. It ruthlessly tears apart everything I’ve done and everything I’m doing, and fills me with fear, the fear of being “normal” (something I’ve never been good at). Normal isn’t bad. The world needs normal. I suck at normal…I always have. I’m afraid if I fail, part of me will shrivel up and die.
That’s why I haven’t told many friends and family that I finished, or that I’m working on social media stuff under a pen name. If I tell people and fail, I’ll have to explain to everyone for years to come that I wasn’t good enough.
I’ve ridden the fence all my life, consciously avoiding making solid decisions to fend off disappointment. Because of fear, I’ve never given anything my full attention or effort (except my relationship with my SO, but even that took a while). The only thing I’ve ever been passionate about is people, and even then I’ve always held back. I’m too afraid of the pain in life, physical or mental, to go for something full throttle.
That has to change, right now. If I’m going to make this work, I have to put everything I am into it, regardless of potential disappointment, failure, rejection, or pain.
I have to be willing to fail.
My SO has two quotes I’ve heard throughout our relationship, but which I never fully appreciated until now. The first one is: “Karate yes, or karate no.” This is referring to Karate Kid, where Miyagi basically says you are safe on one side of the road or the other, but if you stay in the middle, you’ll get hurt eventually. You can do karate, or not, but if you do karate “maybe” you’ll get hurt for sure. The second quote is: “Do or do not, there is no try.” This is a famous one by Yoda that means pretty much the same thing.
Even one of my biggest inspirations, Diana Gabaldon, a brilliant woman with a science Ph.D who wrote a book just to see if she could do it, gave it her everything. So, if you’re out there like me, feeling afraid and riding the fence as “karate maybe,” make a commitment to yourself and I’ll do the same. I can’t say whether or not we’ll make it to our destinations, but stasis is guaranteed if we don’t give our all.
Going through something similar? Tell me about it in the comments or email! If we can’t be there to support each other (as humans, not just writers), who will?