Thoughts on fear and the writing life

I sit in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. Around me, old ladies chat about their grown children, young couples muse about pop culture and their relationship, and mothers remind their toddlers not to toddle around touching everyone.

It was a hastily made decision to actually get dressed and go out today, and for anyone who cares to glance my way it probably shows. Hair in a messy ponytail, old jeans that barely fit, and a black t-shirt I picked up off the bedroom floor. I am probably covered in dog and cat hair, and I only match because purple flip flops go with anything.

I don’t need any books and if I really needed coffee, I’d be at Tim Hortons. I don’t even like Starbucks. So what am I doing here?

After taking the dogs to the park and then playing a short round of water dog this morning, I looked at the clock and realized that at 10 a.m. I was already counting the hours until the end of the day. Hours spent throwing a glow ball, checking the nesting boxes for eggs, and wandering around the house wondering what I would write if I could actually muster up the discipline to do it.

So I head to Barnes and Noble, open the laptop and make a good show of writing.

OK, I’m blogging. Is that the same thing?

Before I left I posted a status update on Facebook: “OK, to B&N in Pittsford to drink coffee and hopefully write a little. I need to get away from the dogs and house and hopefully get something done book/story wise” and a friend asks what book I’m working on.

The truth is, I’m always working on a book. And the other truth is that I’ve yet to actually finish any of them. I’ve gotten pretty far in the proces – did a proposal, talked to an agent, but I think he sensed, correctly, that my own fears were going require a bit of hand holding on his part to get me over that initial hurdle of panic. What? You actually want me to write this book now that you’re sold on the idea?

Whoa. Someone talk me off the ledge.

He told me when I finished writing the first three chapters of the book to let him know and we’d see if he could represent me. The chapters were basically written; all I had to do was pull the material together.

That was several years go.

For now, these ideas remain just ideas. Except that more and more I see that many of the ideas actually merge into one.

Writing about Scout, for example, with the “Everything I know about faith I learned from my dog” book never seemed complete. I talked a lot about fear – mine and Scout’s – and how together we overcame our anxieties. Mostly overcame; he did pass his therapy dog test but, like me, still has moments when his anxiety makes any progress or interactions with others impossible. How did the story end?

Then came Bandit, the devil dog that added a completely new dimension to the story. One anxiety ridden dog plus one confident, bossy  pup equals a fight by everyone to find their place in the pack and finally understand their strengths. Maybe the end of the story was that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

Of course, it was only after the chickens that I realized that the real story was this: I’ve  lost my mind.

It began when Cassie left home and moved to Florida. David, already used to coming and going as he pleased, spent more and more time in the woods, with his hunting buddies, and generally doing his own thing.  Then Natasha the family dog died. Scout came, he broke his leg, and required six weeks of my undivided attention. Then a friend died, the band I was working with moved to Los Angeles, and I began to question everything I’d been doing.

Who was I if I wasn’t “Cassie’s mom” anymore? Who needed me when my husband had an entire life that didn’t include me? Why was I doing publicity if I wasn’t enjoying it? Why was I so afraid of everything?

Basically, I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted – and I had no idea what I wanted to do.

The problem for me has always been that I spend a lot of time helping other people achieve their goals. I’ve helped writers work out kinks in their stories, connected people who can help each other, given critiques and feedback and helped foster creative environments for everyone. Except myself.

What I really need is a me.

What I got instead were more distractions and reasons not to write. I can’t go to the cafe, I have two energetic dogs. I don’t have the money to go to a writing conference; I just spent a bunch of money on the chicken coop. I can’t go out in public; I don’t have anything to wear, I can’t fit into my clothes, my gray hair is a mess, and on and on.

Today I’m having a motivated day. So I sit at that cafe at Barnes and Noble and listen to the young couples talk and watch the other solitary people with their open laptops and hope that what I’ve just typed counts as writing.

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4 responses to “Thoughts on fear and the writing life

  1. Very well put! You could be talking about Me, or most everyone I know. I like most of what you write, but I can relate to this,

    Nice job

  2. Oh girl. Speaking as one of those people you’ve helped, I know that you just put people first. You do. I tend to do it too. Hence, my former business as a Professional Organizer – Razz To The Rescue. It feels good in the moment, but then you get home and the dishes are there and there is no food in the refrigerator and you wonder, what did I do to fill up myself today.

    After having some fleetinf success, I was met with some creepy peeps who seemed to crawl out of the woodwork. And while I’m never been a scared person, well, it did scare me a bit. Suddenly, everyone wants to be your “friend,” get a little closer to you. Do you think that’s part of what keeps you in inactive mode? The fear of success? The potential disruption success could bring?

    You have so much to give other people, lady bug. And I’m glad I didn’t show up and interfere yesterday! This is a kickin’ entry.

    • Renee, what you probably don’t know is that I have a stalker, and have had one for about 2 years. He’s some guy who didn’t like something I wrote on my Beliefnet blog, and has spent the last two years posting lies about me all over the internet and threatening to kill my family. Yup, and I’m a nobody. Imagine what people like that do to actual celebrities.

      My fear of success is that if I write a book and it succeeds, people will want me to do it again. And I don’t know that I have that much in me, LOL

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