As I sit here in front of my computer at the office trying to ‘will’ myself to write I am awestruck by the immense force of this dastardly little four letter word. I certainly do not believe in writers block. I do however have to acknowledge writers reluctance. Perhaps that is not the right choice of word… ugh, there it is again. Fear, the fear of putting down the wrong words on the page.
I find it fascinating that the thing I love to do becomes more arduous the higher my competency level ascends. I have finally deduced, after much contemplation, that the more proficient I become the more burdensome it is for me to sit down to write. You see when you suck at something you are almost always assured that the next time you undertake the endeavor that you will improve over the last time you took on the challenge.
When you reach a certain level of competency you (Ok, I) seem to run into something akin to the economic term “The law of Diminishing Returns”. At some point in the production process “a point will eventually be reached at which additions of the input yield progressively smaller, or diminishing, increases in output.”
Perhaps I reach too far using an economic metaphor for the creative process of writing. Alas, my brain has been trained much more around the economic vein of the entrepreneur than that of the exquisite use of literature by the artist. One of my greatest desires is to achieve a level of artistry in my writing worthy of the insouciant artist whom I fell in love with.
I strive for it yet fear the attempt lest I be exposed as a fraud. I take great solace in the quote from Stephen Pressfield in his writing of “The War of Art” where he suggests:
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
It is these words that give me hope.
Fear embodies a myriad of forms and shapes. For me it can be that conspicuous and unmistakable fear you get while climbing. That first time you lean back on a v-thread you built preparing to rappel down a 400 foot frozen waterfall. It could be the subtle, almost subconscious fear of being called out for a mistake you made at work. Sometimes it is that panic that sets in during an open water swim in a Ironman triathlon surrounded by several hundred competitors.
The truth is that fear is usually something far more insidious than those. I wracked my brain looking for a metaphor that would convey the omnipresent condition, the ubiquitous emotion that we are often loathe to give name.
The first thing that came to my mind was to liken this disdainful emotion to that of one’s shadow. The ever present thing that follows us. Except unlike the shadow, whose presence goes still in the dark, fear never leaves us. It is usually magnified under the conditions of darkness that banish the shadow to oblivion.
To avoid it is impossible. To name it, becomes the answer. The very method to take back our power and leave it a small writhing tide pool within the ocean of our potential.
Like Ursula Le Guin’s story of Earthsea where the Wizards and Mages know that if you possess one’s true name, you will hold power over them. So too can we confine fear by calling it by name.
Fear does not travel alone. Fear rides in packs with distraction, doubt and a litany of other cohorts. I can sense it scheming now in that little grey mass in my head. Whispering “You should check your email.”, “You deserve a night off”, “Why are you at the office on the weekend? Go home and relax”. While all valid thoughts that could be easily accepted I have come to see them for what they really are. The servants of that nasty little four letter ‘F’ word.
I have spoken often of the difference between trying and practicing so I will not ‘try’ to avoid these thoughts, I will practice working through them. Ha! Can you hear it? The brain agreeing wholeheartedly, then quickly assuring me that I have ‘practiced’ enough for the night and that I can resume my practice another day. Like my 11 year old self practicing the piano. “Mom, am I done yet? I’ve been practicing for like an hour!”.
Fear is a powerful force. A grizzly in the Rockies with you between her and her cub.
While it is oft thought that fear is a battle to be fought and won, the sad reality is that fear is a powerful emotion and to ignore it, or try and slay it is an absurd notion. There are reams of tomes written on becoming “Fearless”, or overcoming your fear. From my experience Fear is not something that can be overcome nor is it something that can be avoided.
Spending your time trying to best your fear is a fruitless effort. We are far better off trying to become “Courageous” rather than “Fearless”. I would define courage as “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. Fear is something that I believe we need to learn to move through, not dispatch or out maneuver.
Fear is as inextricable from the human condition as the spine is to the human skeleton. Attempting to dissipate fear is likely to prove as effective as yelling “I hate white rabbits” at the campfire to stop the smoke from blowing in your eyes. If you are victorious, it is merely coincidental.
The idiosyncratic nature of fear means that we often do not know what to do with it. For each of us fear represents our own version of a dragon that needs to be tamed. For me, on this day at least, the trick is to call it by name, shout it out and move through it. For me fear is more a dance than a battle and while I am not really much of a dancer this one is a tango I will have to learn. Knowing that I need to move from one side of the dance floor to the other simply means I need to structure my moves to allow me to twist, turn, side-step or perhaps even dip this partner in order to get to the other side.
Today I have danced once more. I have shimmy-twist-skipped through ‘Fear’ and made it to the other side of the stage, somewhat exhausted, yet unscathed.
Today I have penned my 1000 words and will settle in for a movie on the couch knowing that, at least for this day, I have once more been courageous.