“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway
I’ve learned from the best. I’ve had a top education in schools located around the world. I have various undergraduate degrees and even managed to snap up a Masters on scholarship from a prestigious university. So what is the most important lesson I’ve ever learned?
The message came to me in my late 30s through the television of all things. I’ve always been a creative sort, but stumbled because I tend to be a perfectionist. I squashed many of my interests simply because I didn’t think I could do it. Decorating and design shows were just starting and I consumed them. This was a passion of mine and I had a ton of ideas but I never allowed myself to jump in because I might not be any good at it.
In steps a funny fellow named Christopher Lowell.
He was a brilliant designer, played the piano, and dispensed wisdom through yards of material and buckets of paint. The moment came at the end of one of his shows when he read a viewer’s letter explaining how they were stuck because they were afraid to do anything. He set the letter down, looked into the camera and said these words. “There is nothing worse to fear than the fear itself.”
Those words shocked me. There’s nothing worse than embracing the fear. It is the fear that paralyzes you. It is the fear that keeps you from doing the things you love. I knew I had to fight that fear.
That was the year I started painting. It was the year I started writing a book. I pulled out my old sketch books and started drawing. It was the most fun year I’d had in a very long time. It didn’t matter whether I was any good or not (and I wasn’t- trust me!) I learned to tell the fear to shut up and let myself play.
Ralph Waldo Emerson states, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.”
We can get so caught up in the idea of writing a “really good book” that we forget to simply write for the pleasure. The fear of not creating a masterpiece or at least writing something that’s publishable can be overwhelming. Suffocating. Paralyzing. Often, I find that the fear itself keeps me from doing anything at all and I have to start fighting this age old enemy all over again.
James Scott Bell also has some words of wisdom found in his book The Art of War For Writers. He writes that while fear is a fact of existence, it need not lead to defeat. Dwell too much on these fears and you can become catatonic. He then tells a story of young Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was a very sickly, weak child. So he stayed inside and read a lot of books. In his biography Teddy explains what he learned. “In this passage, the captain of some small British man-of-war is explaining to the hero how to acquire the quality of fearlessness. He says that at the outset almost every man is frightened when he goes into action, but that the course to follow is for the man to keep such a grip on himself that he can act just as if he was not frightened. After this is kept up long enough it changes from pretense to reality, and the man does in very fact become fearless by sheer dint of practicing fearlessness when he does not feel it.”
JSB goes on to say that from that day on, TR determined to live his life just that way. That chapter ends with three rules for writers: 1. Act as if you had no fear. Act as if you are a writer. 2. Don’t wait for your feelings to change. Turn fear into energy for writing. 3. Set goals that challenge you. Then take an immediate step toward that goal.
Fear. It’s a big topic and one that we constantly battle. Remember there’s nothing worse to fear than the fear itself. Don’t let it stop you. Practice the fearlessness found in all of us.