Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is...

Kathryn at Tender Graces asked this question today-- Who are you? How do you label yourself? And how do you validate yourself about what you do? Great topic, Kathryn!

This is a question that comes up with my students over and over. And to be honest, it's one that rears its ugly head with me as well. Students who struggle for years with their own writing wonder if they'll ever get published. I wonder if I'll find the level of success I want. It's easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves, our careers, our publishing advances with others. After all, most of my friends are writers. Published, unpublished, I've found that the way success looks on the outside doesn't always match what the writer feels on the inside.

One friend talked about making the New York Times for the first time and being elated. For a minute. Then she started to worry how long she'd stay there. Would her next book make it onto the NYT? And if it did, would it move up the list? Would she feel like a failure if it didn't? These fears are really no different from the ones unpublished writers have. Will I ever sell? Will this rejection be better than my last one? And if I win this contest, will it make me feel like a writer?

The line that we draw in the sand as our measure of success shifts constantly as we take steps toward our goals. We redraw the line and erase the one behind us. But why can't we be happy about our successes? Is it just human nature to forget what we've accomplished in favor of driving ourselves forward?


But here's what I know. Spending time worrying about things out of our control like publishing, sales figures, book lists and reviewers will only keep us from what we're really meant to do: To Write. Worry keeps us from putting our butt in the chair and doing the work. Fear freezes up creativity. It is the bogey-man of artistry. Whether you write, paint, compose, or do anything that fulfills you, Fear's only job is to stop you in your tracks. Most often, it comes in the form of small negative voices-- maybe the naysayers in our past-- who chip away at our confidence. But all we have control over is what we do. If we paint, we paint. If we write, we write. No one can take that away from us. And it cannot label us. Only we can know who we truly are.

And now a word from my Id (as in the Freudian neuroses to whom this post was really directed.) "That was very enlightened. But can we just readjust this sand line here a smidge?"


You see sometimes, I need to listen to my own advice. Thank you.


Holly said...

Hey, this is me whispering...okay? Whispering because I don't want fear to find me, so I'm only going to say this really quiet...."This is a great, great post!" Gotta jet, fear is always one or two steps behind me!

Barbara said...

Lol! Thank you, Holly! I hear ya, even at a whisper.

Sarah said...

Yup....fear in all things keeps us from doing so many things. Sometimes to even start at all. If I have learned one thing about my art, writing, and photos...things I think are not up to snuff..others love..go figure!! So I try really hard to just Let Fly.
Now the put your butt in the chair thing..that is the hard working on that part.
Wonderful post Sis and wonderful reminder to be present!! Love and hugs, Sarah

Hybrid J said...

Such a great post! I have been going through an existential crisis lately. It's all about that fear which stops me (again) in my track to pursue my writing. I've written a post ( the topic which is very similiar to yours. At the end of the day, I call myself a writer because that is what I do.

Thank you for such wonderful sharing ... :)

Kathryn Magendie said...

Thank you for the mention (smiling)

You are oh so right - that paralyzing fear can ruin the joy of writing. It does seem it is always "the next thing" -- when we should be enjoying all the moments of our successes, whatever they are!

A Palmer said...

I think I stumble myself sometimes because I fear success sometimes more than failure! I know that has something to do with self-worth and it doesn't happen much anymore, but when it does, it's ugly. At least as I have gotten older I have been able to see it coming, call a spade a spade and deal with it before "it" wins! Good post. Hugs, Your Big Sis

Alicia @ boylerpf said...

This is such a great post for me personally at this time with the economy being as tough as it is and sales being down. Many of the things that plague me are out of my control but that little thing called fear about what tomorrow will bring stands in the way. It takes the fun and enjoyment out of the work that I do so enjoy. You have given me some well needed bolstering...Thanks!!!

Renee said...

Barbara thank you so much for your positive thoughts.

How are you enjoying blogging?

Love Renee xoxo

Barbara said...

Renee--Most of all, I'm enjoying the people I'm meeting here and the process of reaching out to one another. There's really nothing else like it anywhere but here in cyberspace. And it gives us a chance to send cyber-hugs to the people we meet, like you. xoxo