fear

The Truth About Writing a Book

I’ve been swimming in a sea of self-doubt and nursing my insecurities about this book (and myself) for far too long now. Although I’ve had bouts of “I can do this!” moments, they’ve been few and far between, and have afforded me very little forward movement in terms of my book.  I’ve learned that you can’t rely on those rare spurts to fuel an entire book. Warning: not a sustainable fuel source. So, I’ve decided to come clean and fess up about what writing a book is like (at least for me... so far...):

 

1.) I’ll be honest. It’s f*$&ing hard. 

Even for someone who loves writing as I do, and can’t function optimally without periodically doing a brain dump in my journal--writing a book takes the writing process to an extreme level.

“Wait, you mean I have to write every day? on topic? coherently? with structure?” Yeah. And that's just the beginning of it.

The last few months of minimal work is evidence of the power of Resistance on work that I actually do enjoy--and yet...my book still sits un-worked-on, gathering digital dust.

 

2.) It’s scary. 

Now, I don’t know if every writer goes through this, but if you ever want to face your fears, writing a book is a great vehicle for just that (you masochist, you).

On more than one occasion, the process of writing this book has found me curled up in a crying heap on my bed, alone in my apartment, paralyzed by fear and wondering why in the world I was choosing to do this. Because of this book, I’ve now hung out with some of my biggest fears, conquered some, and discovered others.

Here are a few of mine that arrest my progress on almost a daily basis:

Feel the fear

“Who am I to write about XYZ?”

”It won’t even be that good, why should I even try? I should just go get a normal job like everyone else and give up my delusions before somebody gets hurt.”

“As soon as I put it out into the world, someone will figure out I’m a big fraud, and shoo me back to a cubicle where I belong.”

or insecurities like these:

“I’m not a good enough writer.”

“I don’t even know who I am yet, though. I thought I knew, but now...”

“What if I my book doesn't actually help anyone?”

“I wasted another day without being productive. I might as well just give up now. It’ll never get done.”

“Someone will be able to poke holes in all my arguments/beliefs...”

and on and on it goes...

 

Not to mention, I’m writing about some of my highest highs and my lowest of lows--and even after only a couple hours of digging around in there--wrestling to get the right words out in a way that accurately and articulately describes all of me and what I’ve experienced and have gleaned from the process... in the wise words of Taylor Swift,

“This is exhausting.”

3.) That said, it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

Like any healthy relationship with something you love, it challenges you, it makes you grow, and you learn more about yourself and what you’re truly capable of. The process of writing this book has pushed me, refined, and changed me. And I still have a ways to go.

Regardless, one of the aspects that I love the most is that even through the many days that just plain...suck...when the words aren’t coming out right or I waste another afternoon and hate myself for letting Resistance get the better of me... Even through all of that, I love this.

I love the struggle. I love the triumphs (big or small). I love it because I chose to be here doing this. I love it because it’s teaching me the need to show up consistently and do good work. And I have faith that truly satisfying things take time to build, and that’s ok. It’s worth working towards and worth waiting for. And for each day that I write, I win a battle and prove my inner-nay-sayer wrong...and that, my friend, feels f*$%ing good.

 

I know there will be critics of my work.  I've heard it said that we can safely assume that at least 10% of all people just won't like you, and that "there is absolutely no work beyond criticism" (-Liz Gilbert).  Some might find my beliefs to be wrong, and silly, and filled with froufrou non-helpful “advice."

But...

What if I didn’t let that stop me?

What if I said, “Screw you” to my fears and shipped my work anyway?

What if my work wasn’t perfect (gasp!)?

What a gift to myself it would be if I did what I set out to do--and built my self-esteem on a firm foundation of hard work and passion, instead of the frail and fleeting efforts of a “dabbler”?

What if by finishing the book, I freed myself up for future opportunities? And what if, then, I didn’t have to look back and wonder “What if I had written that book?/devoted myself to that skill/tried to get into ____school?/finished that screenplay?/started that business?/etc.”

 

The Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

That way, I’d never have to wonder.

That way, even in defeat, I'd know that at least I was in the arena and not just on the sidelines of my life.

That way, I’d never have to look at my future husband or down on my future kids playing on the floor and resent them for being an excuse as to why I couldn't follow my dream(s).

That way, I know I’ve done my part to show up in this chapter of my life. And I’ve subsequently created the space for my future-self to fully engage in each succeeding chapter of my life and not wish I could be doing work I should’ve been doing when I had had the opportunity (I’m not sure that last one made sense, but hopefully you catch my drift).

 

 

This book is not just about me writing a book for a book’s sake. It’s about stretching myself to step into the woman I want to be, and the woman I really am by doing work that I love, and hopefully inspiring others to do the same for themselves.

 

Like Liz Gilbert (world-renowned author and one of my favorite TED speakers) said in her book talk last night, “Always, always, when given the choice, choose creativity instead of fear.”

Getting to meet Elizabeth Gilbert at her book talk in Dallas, TX

 

 

 

For a recording and transcription from the talk last night in Dallas on “Getting your work out there,” click here.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Getting Your Work Out There

Click to listen to the audio (I apologize for the rustling and whispering in advance): [audio m4a="http://mollyking.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Liz-Gilbert-on-getting-your-work-out-there.m4a"][/audio]

 

Loved getting to meet Elizabeth Gilbert at her book talk in Dallas, TX.

One of the themes that I wanted in this novel is this idea, almost a cautionary tale, of the way that women hold themselves back in the world. And I was talking about this recently, it’s the last wall that we have to ascend as women. Sorry, let me be clear, there are still some very real social obstacles to women and women’s lives, and certainly in other parts of the world a great deal more. But let us just base our conversation here on the assumption that there has never been a better time in human history than in contemporary Western society. It’s your best shot, basically, that women have ever ever had for so many reasons. And there are a lot of obstacles that have been removed, and what I see and what I fear I see in the lives of a lot of the really creative and powerful women that I know is that they haven’t quite jumped that last ditch, which is their own perfectionism.

 

And I think that if you’re a woman, it’s particularly difficult because we do live in a society that is constantly letting you know that you actually aren’t good enough. So you’re kinda getting that all the time, you’re getting those messages and you’re absorbing those messages. So it’s understandable that there would a part of you that would absolutely believe that, and internalize that. And then just withhold your work because you’ve decided, already in advance, that it’s not good enough.

 

There’s also a fear of being criticized. And a lot of times, I think people want to make work that is beyond criticism. And I can assure you, there is no such thing. There is absolutely no such thing as work that is beyond criticism. The second it is put out in this world, somebody will hate it, and they’ll write you a long letter letting you know why. And it doesn’t matter how much you try to protect yourself from that by having it be immaculate.  It’s subjective. Somebody’s gonna criticize it.

 

We’re also taught as women, not to thrust ourselves forward. We’re supposed to be a bit retiring. We’re supposed to be polite. We’re supposed to be sweet. All of those things are contrary to the impulse to raise your hand, or ask for the promotion, or demand that it be your idea that be put into play. And something that I constantly find myself telling young creative women, especially, is Don’t wait until you feel that your work or your idea is perfect before you ask to be included. Because having an idea that is not quite perfect never stopped men from putting all kinds of stuff into the world. Don’t let it stop you! 

 

I actually think it’s kind of a gift to be like, “I’ll try!” You know, “Well I’ve never blah blah blah before, but I’m sure I can do it!” And for a women, it’d be like, “Well I’ve only done it 20 times before, so I’ll wait and hold back because I’m not sure.”  And I think we kind of have to take a lesson from that playbook. Because at this point, at this moment of history, given the advantages and the opportunities and the dismantling of obstacles that we’re faced with--if we’re still subjecting ourselves to a kind of oppression, then that’s on us. That’s on us to fix. And we’re the only ones to kind of person-by-person, woman-by-woman fix that. And it’s frightening, but there’s also something really exhilarating.

 

And the other thing is, at some point, if you have a project that you’ve been holding to your breast for so long because you’re afraid to release it, at some point you gotta put that kid on the school bus. That’s the feeling I have a lot in my work too.

 

Like this book that I just wrote is not perfect, and I can tell you where it isn’t, because I know it really intimately. And I know--you know friends who were really terrific novelists wrote me critiques about the book and how I could fix it and I was like...

 

“Eh, yeah, fuck it.” Really.

 

Cause I was like, I’ve been working on this for four years and it’s good enough. It’s pretty good! And I would ask them, “Do you think it’s pretty good?” and they’re like, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” And I’m like, “That’s good, that’s what I wanted.” And I’m not about to start dismantling this thing now because then that’d be the last book I ever write, and I’d do that for 25 years!

 

There’s a wonderful column by Sherry Holds about putting her son on the school bus when he was six years old, and the panic that she felt as the school bus approached and she thought she only had five minutes to tell him everything he needed to know about life. But then she realized, anything that he doesn’t know, he’s gonna have to find on his own. And anything that he does know will help him find it. And that’s all I can do, he’s gotta get on that bus.

 

And I feel like that, with all of our projects, you don’t want your adult child living at home til he’s 40 because you didn’t let him go into the world. And it’s just when we start to think that’s the danger of creative people thinking that their work is their babies, is that you don’t want your baby harmed and bullied and teased and attacked in the world. But actually, it’s a misconception. The work is not your baby. You are its baby. And every work of art and creativity that I have ever done has grown me and raised me and made me who I am. And it mothers me by making me stronger and forcing me to work.

 

And so it’s not it that needs to be protected. It’s fine. It’s just a story. You have to put it forward. You absolutely have to. And you also have to tell your part that’s the scared part of you--which is the youngest and most fearful part of you--you have to talk to it kind of like it’s a toddler. And you have you say, “You know what? There’s some things that mommy really wants to do with her life and if you, Fear, don’t step out of the way, she’s never going to be able to do that. And that’s going to make her really sad, cause her human life is really short. And there’s some stuff we want to get out there and done. So...skootch over.” And ultimately, to put it in one phrase, Always, Always, when given the choice, choose creativity over fear.