I just finished the third draft of my novel, and I’m finally finding room in my mind for more book ideas. I’m dreaming about gardening warriors and a girl with anxiety finding solace in a fantastical world where one’s monsters can be beaten. But I’m also fighting some old fears that keep regenerating like so many heads of hydra.
Fear often comes up like that. Pessimism and worry closely follows victory. I used to be afraid of not finishing the draft at all. Now I worry that I’ve wasted my time, or that it would be a waste of time to keep writing.
When I described my writing fears to my husband, I said, “Imagine you went to work every day without knowing if you would get paid. Or imagine if you put on a big production that took months–maybe years–to produce, and no one showed up.”
This fear quickly turns into a guilty feeling that I’m wasting time. Time is precious. I could have gotten a second job or volunteered or at least meal-prepped for the week instead of writing. Or I could have skipped studying writing in college and graduate school and spent my time and money learning something more monetarily beneficial.
The real problem with this writing fear–and many other fears–is that it knocks me prone. I can’t move until I’ve faced it. And once I’ve faced it, there will be another one waiting for me.
If I’ve learned anything from playing Dungeons and Dragons, it’s that there’s always, always another monster–or else a recurring monster–that must be beaten down. Some of them are small and easy. We’ve fought them before and know their weaknesses. Some are big, new, and challenging. Fortunately, fighting these always ends in a level-up, and we’re more prepared than ever for the next battle. Even the easy battles become easier.
Every time I overcome a fear, another one bares its teeth. But I’m stronger. I have more tools in my belt. I have more wisdom or strength or charisma to help me win. And I have past victories to remind myself that I can do it again.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic when I say there’s always another monster. Perhaps a more optimistic way of saying this is that there’s always another victory. If you overcome a fear, you have made the next victory even more imminent. You start looking around at those monsters that used to seem so big and realize how easily you could beat them using what you’ve learned.
Fighting monsters becomes a healthy exercise. The more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the better you feel about more difficult challenges. Not that you go looking for things to fight, but you are more confident about fighting them when they do come.
I know writing isn’t a waste of time. All I have to do is remind myself of what I learned the last time I had that fear–that I’m a writer whether I publish or not, that I must write, and that writing will make me a better writer. I recently saw Little Women, and without giving anything away, I’ll add that the idea of writing for someone was truly inspiring. And if I could write a story that makes a young person feel more confident, then it will be worth all of the worry. If I can’t, and I only try, then at least I’ll have had victories along the way.