Writing and Fear (A Reblog of a Reblog of Sorts)

This morning I had the good fortune to come across this post from Dave at According to Dave.  He shares a post from a NaNoWriMo forum.  You can read the original post at http://nanowrimo.org/en/forums/reaching-50-000/threads/114149, or go to Dave’s blog for the full text.  In short, the post is about a fear that many writers have:  the fear of being thought ridiculous.  Not unskilled, not inexperienced, but ridiculous as in your writing can be “laughed at, scorned, lampooned.”

I’m currently participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and am going through the usual “this novel is s**t” roadblock.  And I recognize the fear that the poster writes about, the fear that makes me question every page, every paragraph, every word I type.  I know I’ve written about this in other posts of mine and in comments about writing workshops and the like, but apparently it’s not a dead subject for me.

In a college-level workshop that I took about 20 years ago, one of my stories–the ending, specifically–was laughed at, mocked.  The mocking was led by the professor and I assume since he was known for getting young writers hooked up with agents and publishers, some students took his cue to impress him.  At least one student saw the devastation and humiliation writ large on my face and tried to comfort me later.  I’ll admit the ending was melodramatic and the story had a lot of problems overall.  But I’m not convinced it was necessary to humiliate me.

Ironically, my final story for that semester was one that the professor crowed about, to the point of introducing me to someone important (an agent, maybe?  a publisher?) at a writing conference.  If he was offering me an opportunity at that point, I missed it because I couldn’t reconcile his willingness to humiliate with his willingness to praise one and the same writer.  I remember standing in the room, between him and this important person, and being dumbstruck because I hadn’t anticipated his praise.  I had no 3-minute elevator pitch.  I had nothing.  I just smiled at him.  I might have said thank you. They walked away.  The important person was obviously unimpressed.

Although the wound still aches and I still fight the fear of being found unworthy, of being found a figure for ridicule, I also now feel unimpressed by the professor and his connections.  I realize that some of the dynamic in that workshop, in that whole writing program, was based largely on his influence, his power to anoint the next “golden boy” or “golden girl” writer.  It wasn’t to guide us into becoming better writers, but for him to find the diamonds in the rough and nurture them.  Like many in academia, professors seek out those students who make them look good.

Fortunately this professor was not my only access to guidance.  And I did learn a lot in his workshop, technically speaking.  It’s a sorry state to be past my mid-fifties and still coming to a near froth over that experience.  But it’s time to move on, to write my “ridiculous” novel, if that is what it is, to take a cue from a young woman who, although still afraid, “cannot shut [her] mouth from shouting the music that has swelled in [her] lungs.”

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  1. The frothy things stay with us as a reminder that we build our own success. Keep writing your own stuff no matter what.


    • Good point about building one’s own success. Good reason to keep writing. Thanks, John :)


  2. It’s a wonder we ever finish anything, isn’t it — since we’re paralyzed with doubt 90% of the time. And yet… I guess that 10% confidence does the trick! Keep at it.


  3. Seriously? Yikes. You were mocked in front of everyone! I think I’d be terrified of that as well!


    • That’s how I remember it. Some might say it wasn’t that bad but I felt pretty devastated and that’s what stayed with me. Fortunately I had a very different and much more positive experience in another workshop the next semester (different professor). Funny, though. I’m always tend to remember the bad experiences more than the good ones ;)


  4. Hmfff! He sounds like a very ” ridiculous ” person.


  5. You go girl ;)


  6. I’m a little behind on everything right now, but had to stop in for a visit. Glad I did. The second day of a preposterously egotistical English 101 teacher verbally demeaning students, and I dropped out. The new teacher was an inspiration for me. We stayed in touch for years. She boosted me and it lingers, much like your negative experience lingers. With a few encouraging words, they could do so much good.
    I always enjoy your blog writing and look forward to reading more of your work.
    The editor is supposed to be on vacation in another camp this month! I will repeat, just write! Have you read Anne Lamott or Natalie Goldberg? Please do if you haven’t.


    • Good to hear from you, Patti! I was fortunate to have other good, supportive professors during that time. I am amazed at how vivid my memory is of that experience, though. I had actually come across the story a few nights ago and couldn’t bring myself to reread it. The thing is, I don’t think the story is very good. Oh, the irony! :)
      I’ve never read Lamott or Goldberg … although I might have a book by Goldberg around ;) See you in camp!


      • I suggest them to you because they are great motivators and have humor.
        Even if the story is pure crapola, that is not the way to deal with it. I’m so mad at him!


        • Well, I’ll just have to add them to my book collection :) I might have to write an addendum to this post. My relationship with the professor was more complicated than this one post suggests. In the end, he become supportive of me, although I was never one of his “golden” students. (Which was probably a good thing :))


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