Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fear of Writing

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If you want to write, you can.  Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is.  Who am I?  What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me, if I do?  You're a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right.  If you speak with passion, many of us will listen.  We need stories to live, all of us.

We live by story.  Yours enlarges the circle.”


Pulitzer Prize Winner

For The Making of the Atom Bomb


            It seems that almost everyone “has a book in them.” However, relatively few actually sit down to write it. The reasons are many.

·         They discover that writing is hard work – surprisingly hard work that takes time, energy and actual thought.

·         They are too busy with kids, jobs, fun things.

·         They discover that they don’t have as much to say as they thought.

·         They are afraid to put their thoughts down on paper (their friends might actually read them and ridicule the writer).

·         When they do try they don’t seem inspired.

·         They fear failure.

·         All of the above.


Anyone who has ever written successfully has probably faced many, or all, of the same obstacles but may have overcome them by simple force of will.

Even Tennessee Williams talked about “the terror of the white page in the typewriter.”

And the prolific Jack London said “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”


Today there are more so-called writers than ever before. Publishers throughout the world put literally thousands of new books on the market each year – many of which are actually worthy of publication. The rise of self-publishing and ebooks means that anyone who can string together enough words to make a novel – or a memoir or a diatribe about one social ill or another – can make their work available to the unsuspecting world with ease.

And the Internet – God bless it despite all its faults – has spawned maybe billions of “writers,” many of whom (in my opinion) should not be allowed to opine in public (mainly those who spew hate and cast vile, usually unsupported accusations at those with whom they disagree).

The option of “anonymity” has probably given these individuals the means to overcome their fears (if, indeed, they ever had any) and allowed them the freedom to express any views (right or wrong, fair or not) with impunity.

Meanwhile, others of us toil alone in a room, struggling with our craft, striving to make it worthy of a reader’s time, attempting to create something of beauty, trying to make history understandable and important to today, re-creating the life of a significant individual, or telling a story that resonates with others and that has a message of hope for the future. Then we wait while the sales team of a publisher determines whether or not it might be a profitable venture for them.

For two years in the 1960s I shared an office with Richard Rhodes, the author of the quote that opens this piece. Dick and I were quite young and working for a major firm in Kansas City. We were writing but not doing the kind of writing to which we both aspired. However, writing advertising and sales promotion copy was honing our skills, perfecting our styles, teaching us proofreading lessons that would be valuable to us both.

Eventually Dick went to New York to write and I moved into higher education. We have both continued to write – he has been much more productive than I have in terms of published books although I may have published as many or more words in newspaper and magazine articles, advertising copy and video scripts (and in the published historical novel “This Cursed Valley.”

The point is that (although I can’t speak for him) I have had to overcome fears of my own and, somehow, have managed to do so.

It can be done. In some cases, fear of writing may be a good thing for it forces one to work hard at creating something worthwhile that contains complete sentences, is free of typos, refuses to resort to obscenities to make a point (frequent use of the f-word, for example, is to me an indication of lazy writing – the author can think of no other way to express themselves), and shows that the writer has worked diligently to find new ways of saying familiar things.

Addressing aspiring writers, Mark Twain once wrote: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

In a similar vein Anton Chekhov said “Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

“Easy reading is damn hard writing” said Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Hard writing is what it is all about. If it was easy to do, everyone would do it – often with disastrous results.

Finally, all writers should heed the words of Samual Beckett: “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Grit your teeth. Take a deep breath. Write.






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