How Writers Fail Part 11: They Want To

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I know, I know. The title is harsh. Because the topic is harsh.

Remember, I have decades worth of experience watching and trying to help writers. And I have learned, to my chagrin, that some writers are beyond help.

Or rather, the help those writers need is beyond anything I or any other writer/mentor can provide.

The writers who are beyond help often ask for help, especially early on. They take classes. They try a few things. They talk a great game. They might know everything that there is to know about writing/publishing/agents or whatever holds their interest.

But when you actually look at what they do, the one thing they do not do is write.

Let me amend that.

They do not write for publication, whatever publication might mean.

There are a handful of these writers who actually write a lot and put it all in a drawer. This has been the behavior of some writers since the dawn of time. Ever hear of Emily Dickinson’s sister? Her niece? Well, they’re the ones who got her work published after she died. (Even that is a long sad story, filled with anger and lawsuits and tampering with the poetry.)

In her lifetime, ten of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published, and some speculate that she had nothing to do with the publications. She wrote the poems, handbound them, and sent them in little booklets to friends and family. Speculation is that some friend or family member had the poems published—anonymously, mind you—because someone believed that Dickinson’s voice should not have been silenced. When asked if her work could be put into a charity anthology or even an anthology of anonymous work, she dithered and ultimately, through dithering, let the opportunity pass.

Does that sound familiar to any of you? That dithering is often the subconscious, worrying about what might happen if something is published.

Whatever fears the writer has—a fear of failure, a fear of success, a fear of being “revealed” for who they really are—mount. The writer simply can’t overcome them, and so, rather than publish, the writer dithers or fails to mail things or indie publish things.

The writer often guarantees their own failure.

I’ve watched so many writers do this. If you don’t try, then you can’t fail on a large level. If you don’t put your work out there, then you won’t have to see that the world won’t fall at your feet just because you published something. If you don’t put your work in print, then you won’t have to see what readers or critics or your friends will say about it.

These fears are paralyzing for many writers (heck, for many creatives in all disciplines). I still run from singing, mostly because singing in public brings memories of my mother. The last time I sang with a group, when I was around 40, we participated in a competition at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

We performed on a riser, and I was toward the back. After I climbed to my position and turned around, I could see the front rows of the audience. And there, for a moment, was my mother. She sat in one of the chairs to the side, a frown on her face. I figured I was seeing a woman who looked like my mother.

We started singing, and the woman who looked like my mother started shaking her head. Then she sighed and rolled her eyes, just like my mother would have.

I made myself look away.

When I looked back, the seat was empty. I doubt anyone had been sitting there. Or maybe I had been right; a woman who looked like my mother sat there briefly.

It didn’t matter. My throat closed up, my voice failed me, and I couldn’t wait to get off that stage.

I haven’t sung in public since.

What would it take to get me to sing in public? I’m not sure. I’ll probably find out in the next few years. I’m hoping to muscle my way past it. But if I can’t, then I know what I would need to do.

Therapy. Talk therapy, focused on exorcising that woman from my brain so that I can enjoy an art form I’ve loved since I was little.

What happened to me on that stage (and on most stages where I had to sing) happens to writers too. Something terrifies them on a deep level about either writing or publishing.

So those writers do what they can to guarantee the failure.

The problem that we creatives have when they have this kind of paralyzing fear is that the fear encompasses success as well as failure. Success—singing on stage in a competition that we were winning—is just as hard if not harder than bombing.

I always expect to bomb when I sing. When I realize that I’m not bombing…well, then the throat seizes up and the voice quits.

It’s not conscious.

Nor is it conscious for a writer who needs to fail to protect themselves. They don’t get to the writing. Or they don’t publish their work. Or they don’t mail it (if they want to be traditionally published).

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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