Fear And Writing In North Texas

When I decided to go full-time with my podcasting, one of the things that I was really excited about was finally getting a lot of time to dedicate to my writing. I imagined myself getting up at the crack of dawn with an oversized cup of steaming coffee, wrapping up in my robe and settling into my comfy chair, then pouring my ideas onto my keyboard for several hours before finally coming up for air.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that’s not what happened. But what I couldn’t figure out for several weeks was, why not? 

It’s not like I’m lazy. Well, maybe I am with some things, like jogging, and scrubbing the bathtub. But anyone who’s met me knows that if anything, one of my biggest flaws is taking on too much. So what was it that was keeping me out of my comfy chair and keeping me dicking around on my podcasting stuff when I had already made a deal with myself to spend the day writing?

As in so many aspects of my life, I finally realized that the reason for my inaction was fear.

I get on my podcast every day and in the midst of reviewing books and TV, I share deeply personal stories about myself, political opinions, and generally open up more than the average person does to a bunch of strangers online. However, that’s me sitting back and criticizing other people’s work, and that’s easy.

I have come to recognize that I’m frightened to put myself out there by creating something that’s all mine. I’m a perfectionist, and when I look at the first drafts of my books from the vantage point of having several more years of experience in critiquing, I can see so clearly how poor a lot of my work was. I feel ashamed and upset and frustrated, and I want to go back and erase everything from the memories of people who read my earlier versions. Even second and third drafts, when reading with fresh eyes, fail to capture anything like what I intended, and I lay awake at night suddenly aware of mistakes I’ve made in the plot, or dogged by the knowledge that certain chapters lag because I have no idea where my characters are going.

Today I’m sitting down and brainstorming until I have the plot of the first fifteen “episodes” of my books nailed down, in detail. I will be removing my finished books from Wattpad for the time being until I have decided how best to proceed with the formatting of “episodes” and the handling of POVs. I think a major overhaul is in order, and I’m pretty excited to get to delve into the future of my characters.

Are you a writer? Have you experienced this kind of realization, and if so, how’d you get through it?

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The Warmth And Cheer Of Spooky Halloween

From 'Scary Scary Halloween', written by Even Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett

From ‘Scary Scary Halloween’, written by Even Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett

Were you lucky enough to have an aunt, a gramma, an uncle, or anyone else who opened special doors for you when you were a kid? Did you have someone in your life that you think back and realize some seemingly small action on their part played a major role in who you are today?

For me, that person is my Aunt Julie. She was one of those famed “cool aunts” who lived in a beautiful and exotic place (San Francisco), had a really cool job (Pastry Chef), and would sweep in at holidays or send me massive boxes on my birthday that were always packed with stuff that I felt sure simply did not exist in boring old Connecticut.

A two-page illustration of a witch's ideal home, from 'The Witch's Handbook' by Malcolm Bird.

A two-page illustration of a witch’s ideal home, from ‘The Witch’s Handbook’ by Malcolm Bird.

My aunt worked at the now-closed bookstore and cafe A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. They had gorgeous displays of children’s books that she simply couldn’t resist, and I would find myself on the receiving end of some of the most beautifully illustrated hard-cover volumes I have come across, even now. 

Recently I decided that I was going to make a display of some of my favorites, and while I wasn’t able to find a few on shelves in stores, they’re winging their way towards me as we speak from the Used section on Amazon. Scary Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting remains my unequivocal favorite, both for the lilting rhyme and the atmospheric illustrations, while The Witch’s Handbook is fantastic for both the level of detail and humor. 

'Autumn Story' by author and illustrator Jill Barklem

‘Autumn Story’ by author and illustrator Jill Barklem

There were also books that weren’t specifically Halloween, and instead were more Autumnal in theme. Autumn Story by Jill Barklem was the kind of book that made you want to curl up under a blanket with a hot cup of cider in front of a roaring fire. The illustrations are so evocative of that brief moment in very late autumn when the earth hovers precipitously on the edge between harvest-time abundance, and the first bites of frost that will nip the branches bare. Inside the homes of these little mice are pantries that put mine to shame, brimming with home-canned jars of blackberry preserves and pots of honey. Even their bedrooms look more inviting, squashy mattresses spread with patchwork quilts and a fire crackling merrily in the corner.

These spooky, brilliantly-colored, imaginative, and comforting books are what Autumn has always meant to me. Nothing to me is more beautiful than the feeling of a shiver creeping up your back while you’re wrapped in a blanket, safe and sound, with the rich scent of cinnamon and woodsmoke on the air. It’s a time to simultaneously celebrate the life-giving fruit of the earth while honoring those we’ve lost and contemplating the mysteries of what lies Beyond.

So thanks, Aunt Julie, for all those wonderful books. And rest in peace, A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books. You may not have known it, but you were one of my best friends.