by JT Ellison
This year at Murderati has been one filled with pain, with joy, with sorrow, with compassion. Though we’ve been in business for five years, honestly, this has arguably been our best. Because we’ve all been facing our fears. Dusty covered the idea of true, earth-shattering emotional reaction to fictional things that go bump in the night. Tess talked about her incredibly personal panic reactions to events out of her control. Stephen is facing the unknown, and I daresay Louise is as well. We’ve covered phobias, frustration, anger, change.
We haven’t talked a lot about fear.
If you think about it, fear is truly what drives us sometimes.
Fear of loss. Fear of death. Fear of success. Fear of failure.
Ah, yes. Fear of failure.
For writers, that term is an all too familiar companion. Yes, there are probably a few who are so confident that they never worry about their work, just plow ahead and damn it all. Their work is often soulless, but they aren’t up all hours of the night, fretting.
Fear of failure is my constant companion. Not just as a writer, but as a woman, as a wife, as a human being. It’s what drives me to focus, to write, to love. To jump off cliffs, headless of where I may land.
Failure, to me, is fear. I’ve failed before. Colossally. I’ve had jobs that I wasn’t any good at. I suck at friendships. I’m too frank, too impatient. I’m damn good at the wife thing, most of the time, at least, but when I was first married, I was terrible at that too. Practice made perfect, that and a very, very patient husband. I’ve learned to cook, to manage a house, to handle issues I’d never dreamed of. I think I have it down pretty well, though there’s always room for improvement.
I’d like to think I’m decent at the writing part. Not great. Oh no, far from that. But capable. Getting more and more confident. Learning the things to fret about and the things to let go.
Controlling the things I can control.
It’s amazing, though, that after writing all the books I have, that I hit a point in every book where I decide it’s a hellacious mess that has no business being finished, much less published. I hit that moment last week, minutes before I was due to get on a plane to Scotland to finish the research. I say finish — when we made plans for the trip, I was supposed to be done, and the trip would be a way to finalize little details: smells, sounds, looks. We’d been in July and I was convinced it was going to look so much different — which it did, and didn’t.
Instead, I’m not done, not remotely close enough to being done for my liking, as a matter of fact, and the trip, while brilliant, was too helpful. I know have a glut of information that needs to go in that I didn’t realize before, which is slowing things down at the exact moment I need to be gaining momentum.
And this is the moment when the fear sets in.
You should HEAR my brain.
You’re never going to finish. You suck. This book is too much of a stretch. Why did you break form? What are you thinking? Serial killer books are so much easier to write. Why did you decide to make this a gothic suspense? You’re an idiot. This will be the end of you.
Yeah. Lovely little blackbirds, aren’t they?
But at its most basic, all this is is fear. Yes, I’m taking a chance writing a book that might not “fit” with the previous six. But the desire to keep my series fresh and inviting dictates change. I can’t change the characters too much, but I sure can change the way I tell a story. And sometimes I bite off more than I can chew.
But conquering fear is what every writer faces every day. Steven Pressfield calls it resistance, and it’s true—when you’re scared, you will find anything and everything to distract you from actually putting your ass in the chair and writing the book. But all that does is get you stressed that you’re not living and breathing every moment of the book, and works on the part of your fragile psyche that feeds on negative thoughts.
I daresay that anyone who has had success is well versed in these moments of fear. And let’s face it, all fear and indulgence aside, the idea that you’re going to fail is a great inducement not to.
I’ve spent most of the past two days thinking about all the things I’m thankful for. Getting home safe from Scotland. My health. The love of my family and friends. The success of my novels. The simple joys of my life–petting the cat, watching a crackling fire, sipping a glass of wine, reading a book, talking to a friend on the phone. My husband, en totale, everything about him. The freedoms we enjoy in this country. That God gave me a gift and allowed me to put words to the page and tell you stories. The world we’ve created here at Murderati — all fourteen of us, and all of you — where we can share our joy and fear and success and sorrow among friends.
And I am also thankful for the fear. Because if I didn’t have anything to lose, I wouldn’t have much to live for. After a week delving deeply into the lives of Randy’s and my Scottish forebears, of seeing what they had to lose if they gave into the fear that must have plagued them constantly, the fact that their decisions were based in courage, in a desire to better themselves and the lives of their families, that the wrong decision meant an almost certain death, and the right one did too – all my “fear” seems a bit silly.
What about you, ‘Rati? What puts fear in perspective for you?