Thursday, April 21, 2011

Be Brave and Revise (Or, Alternately, My Struggle With Fear)

Before I get into this post, I want to say that I am not complaining about any of the wonderful things that have come my way. If this post comes across that way, that isn't how I intend it. I have been blessed with manymanymany good things, but life is fraught with difficulty no matter how many good things happen to you. So I'm writing this post because one of my goals, when I started this blog, was to be honest about my mistakes and the things I struggle with. I haven't done that recently, and I want to do it now. That's all.

Anyway. Enough with the disclaimers.

The rough draft of D2 was the hardest thing I have ever written, and I had no idea why. Why, when I sat down at my computer in the morning, would I do anything, ANYTHING to avoid typing a single word in the word document? Why would I write a sentence and then immediately delete it? Why did I develop such an affinity for cleaning instead of writing?

I explained it to myself several different ways, desperate to figure out what had turned the hobby and job I loved into something I regarded with such dread. And after discarding every explanation I came up with, I was finally able to land on the one that was actually true: it was all related to fear.

Something I have not shared, because I wasn't sure how to share it, is that I am A Person With Anxiety Problems. I have spent many an hour on a therapist's couch. Once I spent several hours breathing into a paper bag, and not just because it smelled nice. Most of that anxiety comes from my constant assessment of other people's opinions about me. Am I making him angry? Am I disappointing her? If I please everyone, I will finally feel safe. I must please everyone, all the time. I have made many unwise decisions in my pursuit of safety above all else. Decisions that were often to my detriment and, even worse, to the detriment of the people around me.

So, you can imagine what happened when I entered into a profession in which assessments of my work (and therefore me, or so it often seems to my somewhat neurotic mind) are constant, abundant, and very, very public. But in case you can't, I'll tell you: the anxiety got much worse.

Writing used to feel safe because it was so private. I could keep it to myself, and decide only after I was finished if I would show it to anyone. So when I was writing, I was secure; I could do whatever I wanted. But it didn't feel that way with D2. I was constantly aware that people would read what I was writing. And the assessment of other people's opinions crept into my safe space. What will she think of this? What if he doesn't like this? What if I let them all down? I have to please everyone, so that I can feel safe.

Several weeks ago I met with my pastor, and he asked me, in the course of our conversation, something to the effect of: do you think it's significant that, as someone who struggles so much with fear, you chose to write a book about bravery? Well if I didn't before, I do now, Jason.

Tris is someone who can step off the edge of a building not knowing what will meet her at the bottom. The moments in which she faces her fears are largely physical, far louder and more intense than any of our bravest moments will ever be. I don't know why I didn't realize that I wrote about her because I longed for that quality of hers that is so distinctive to me: she chooses the true thing instead of the safe thing. And what she discovers is that the freedom to become who she wants to be is worth the danger.

What I know now, after much reflection, is that I have brought much of this intense anxiety upon myself, because I have started to make decisions that do not feel safe, like Tris. I have let people down. Hurt them, sometimes. Pissed them off, other times. Surprised them, almost always. Yet I have not been able to translate this newfound insistence upon bravery into my writing.

I've been working with my bodyguards (agent, editor, etc.) to create a safer space to write, one in which I can stop the assessments of other people's opinions before they take me to darker places. But I know that's only a temporary solution, because I've learned from Tris that there aren't really safe places-- or that if there are, I don't really want to be in them, because it's not who I am. The permanent solution is something I learned from another character in DIVERGENT:

"I ignore my fear. When I make decisions, I pretend it doesn't exist." (145)

Writing is about decisions. Your characters make them, but more often, you make them. You decide what you are going to say and what you are not going to say; what you believe and what you do not believe; where you want the story to go and where you do not want it to go. And I don't want to be a writer who is ruled by fear. I want to be the one who says: they may not like it, but this story is as true as possible, so I don't mind.

Anxiety doesn't just disappear. I will probably always be someone who struggles with fear. But I am determined not to consult my fear when I make decisions, in life and in writing.

I think I wrote all this on the off-chance that you, like me, struggle with anxiety-- or just fear in general-- and might benefit from knowing that you're not the only one. Or maybe I just wrote it because there are no moving trains to jump off around here and this was the next best way to face my fears. Either way, it's time to be brave and revise.

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