What frightens me?
Today I was talking about anxiety with a friend. I don’t think most people know the depths, the power, of my anxiety. I have what is called an anxiety disorder, and I see a doctor for it, and take medicine. But despite the great treatment I receive, on the most basic level, I just have to live with anxiety and the deep-seated fear it produces.
As a writer, fear can crush you. I know brilliant writers who have written brilliant books, yet who have never shown anyone in the publishing industry their work because they are afraid. They do not believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the work is good enough. Their fears are inarticulable and ghostly. There is no book-monster that will eat you if you get rejected by an agent or publisher. I should know.
But their fears are real, nonetheless. And that fear destroys careers.
(Most of these people, by the way, are women. For reasons that are beyond the scope of today’s column, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.)
As a writer, fear can stop you from writing a single word. It can make you second guess everything you do. The most difficult thing in the world to do as a writer is to set aside your fear and work. I’ve gotten really good at it.
Perhaps that’s because I’ve had anxiety since I was a child. People who know me only in passing would never know about my fears. I cope with fear the way our current Incredible Hulk copes with anger. He doesn’t try to suppress his anger. Rather:
“You’re not afraid of anything!” they say to me.
No. I’m afraid of everything. Always, all the time. Whatever it is I need to do, I’m afraid to do it.
And then I do it anyway. I was afraid to get married. Afraid to have children. Afraid to write fiction. Afraid afraid afraid. During my first USTA tennis match, my hands, my whole body, was literally shaking with fear. I don’t know what it’s like to be unafraid. It’s just the way I’m made. It sucks. It’s unfair, maybe. But it also taught me something important.
If I want to do something scary, I’m just going to have to do it, despite my fear. There’s no getting around it.
So this column goes out to all of you out there who are afraid today, of whatever it is that scares you. I love you, babies. I believe in you, too. Maybe, today, you will do one small thing to embrace your fear. If that thing is writing, hold on strong. Write those scary words. Send that book out. Submit the story or essay.
Feel your heart race and know that it’s okay to be afraid while you do your thing. That fear doesn’t make you a coward.
It makes you amazing.