Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pen phobia: writing through the fear

 “The real writer is one
who really writes. …
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.”

(Excerpt from “For the Young Who Want toby Marge Piercy)

I remember like it was yesterday not being afraid to write. Maybe because it was yesterday. It may even have been this morning or two hours ago that I wasn’t afraid. But I am afraid now.

That is what it’s like when the bogey man sneaks up, silent, invisible, and pounces with a completely unanticipated panic, this weird phobia of picking up the pen, of moving it across the page. It’s a bizarre fear-feast that combines several sub-fears:

1.       The fear of having nothing to say

2.       The fear of having too much to say that is unresolvable, disturbing, or life-altering (in some nameless though painful way)

3.       The fear of writing crap

There are a number of logical ways to poke holes in these fear bubbles. On point 1, since when have I ever had nothing to say with my pen? Let’s move on.

Nat Goldberg (though I’ve never met this blessed woman, I call her “Nat” because I feel like I know her, having read so much of her work on this subject that I have yet another fear – of plagiarizing her without realizing it) says that (re: point 2) the disturbing stuff is where the energy is, and (point 3) that those of us who consistently practice writing will write crap a good deal of the time.  Crap is fertilizer. Be grateful for what grows out of it.

Since those fears are bogus and neatly dealt with, what is eating at me today? I realize even as I write that last question, the big “What’s-The-Point” horror is hounding me – the terror of meaninglessness. The world is already drowning in too many words. Everybody wants a platform, wants to be heard. What is so special about my words that anyone should read them?

And now I see the elephant in my peripheral vision. It’s over there, in the shadowy corner of my office, snickering. The big hairy elephant with pink bunny slippers, mocking me, taunting me, swaying his ludicrously large gray trunk back and forth, back and forth, slowly while he chants, “So, she wants to be a writer. So, she thinks she is a writer. So, the world could care less.”

Ok, let’s reason with the elephant. Maybe he’s right – I should give up my delusion. What does the world need with another writer? Maybe I can go back in time to a point when I wasn’t a writer, when I didn’t care about writing.

Sure. Maybe I can crawl back into my mother’s womb.

No, I do not remember a time when my hand did not ache to hold the pen, to move the ink across the page, to find out what my mind was holding out on me. For me, meaning is not a reason to write or not to write. I write through the fear of meaninglessness, even as I breathe through it. Neither the words nor the breath create meaning, but somehow I find it, on the other side of the fear. At the far end of the page.

The only cure to the fear of writing is to write. The “work is its own cure. You have to / like it better than being loved.”

Apparently I do like the work of writing better, since here I am still tapping away at this keyboard, meaninglessness yet unresolved. Me, I’m the one still in the room. The elephant… well, he’s long gone.


  1. Well, the zenny folks say you have to work without caring about the result. Work for the sake of working. I understand that. That's what I shoot for. Some days it is not easy. Ah, okay, many days.

  2. I hear you, Gail. While I promote writing through meaninglessness, there is always somewhere in the back of the brain some sense that there is meaning in this. Even if it is the same meaning that breathing has -- survival. There has to be some grain of sand to work on to create the pearl. OK, maybe not the best metaphor, but I think there is a balance between the zenny and the result-focus.

    Thanks for sharing!