Personally, I have a lot of fears and anxieties. Some of which I’ve been able to overcome the past few years as I get older while others I know I will never outgrow. I don’t see that as a bad or good thing. We all have fears and anxieties. It’s how we choose to cope or overcome them that matters.
But this isn’t one of those personal philosophical postings, rather I would like to discuss my professional fears and anxieties. Not so much ‘will I get published?’, ‘when will I get published?’, ‘will people like my work?’, etc. I do feel anxiety about my abilities. All writers and artists do, it’s why we can become quite nutty, but I know I can study how to improve, get advice from fellow writers, listen to the feedback from the writers group I’m in.
There are certain subjects, topics, and types of writing that frighten me: violence, in particular rape, sex scenes, fan fiction (I feel massively childish by wanting to express my dorkiness), unsympathetic characters, abuse in any form, and anything resembling experiences I’ve gone through in real life.
As a reader, I get squeamish at times reading certain scenes or reading experiences of a particular horrible character. If I can, I try to skim these passages even though I know these scenes are part of story and character development. Emotionally, it can be too much to take. Oddly enough, I don’t mind gory horror I guess because I know zombies aren’t real, vampires don’t exist, and there are no such things as werewolves.
But as a writer, I should be paying attention to those uncomfortable scenes. I should be studying the mechanics of the scene. I need to learn to step back from the scene emotionally as a reader, and don the intellectual cap. Does it go too far to make its point? Or does it not go far enough? Is this being done purely for shock value?
There is also the inevitable fear at the back of my head of ‘What will my family and friends think if I write this?’ That is harmful and stifles creativity. Not everybody is going to like my work and that includes family and friends. We each have our own personal tastes. I am merely the tool for the stories and characters in my head. Yes, I do create the stories and characters, to some degree, but even though I may plan out the story, once I sit down to write, the characters are the ones in control. They take turns into areas I hadn’t thought about, do things I don’t want them to do, and yes, some of those are some bad things. When I have tried to reign in some of the bad things, I’ve noticed that just creates a huge impasse. It’s when I start struggling. It’s when the writing feels like it is losing authenticity. And at the end of the day, the story needs to be authentic.
Stephen King, in his book On Writing , mentions receiving an angry letter from a reader accusing him of hating animals. In one of his books, a character kicks a dog to death. The scene was meant to show how brutal the character was, his disregard for life. It was part of character development. It wasn’t inserted in for shock value. He responded by noting he does not dislike animals nor does he advocate animal abuse. The character’s actions were not a reflection of his personal values.
It is incredibly easy as a reader, and I still do it this day, to believe that whatever a writer composes, it is an accurate and true reflection of the writer as a PERSON. I wonder if this is because writers are very often inspired by real-life events either in their own lives, the lives of those around them, or what they read/see. The lines are blurred even more with creative non-fiction which, by its very definition, is true life but with creative twists.
Writing, like all forms of art, can be a very cathartic release but it is important to keep in mind no matter how much a story could be based in the reality, it is NOT the writer’s own personal values on the page. We read stories to follow the paths characters take. We read stories to immerse ourselves in a different world, a different time. We read stories for entertainment. We read stories to reflect on our own moral compass.
In my opinion, the best stories I’ve read are rooted in realism. The characters say and do things I personally would never do but is the truth for the character. I can become sympathetic to a serial killer who murders because he was terribly abused in childhood. I can also become unsympathetic to a passive, mousy character who never stands up for themselves.
So as a writer, I need to work on emotionally allowing myself to push my creativity outside my comfort zone. Like everything else with writing, it is a long, never ending process full of successes and failures.