(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
When I was a little girl, there was a game I used to like to play with my dad. We called it the ‘Hand Stand Game’. He would lie on his back on the floor, arms above his head, palms up to the ceiling. I would plant a foot in each one of his hands. Holding onto my feet he would slowly raise his hands, then sit up, then get up into a standing position, all the while with me balancing on his hands. Besides what it says about my dad’s upper body strength (I know I can’t stand from a lying position without using my hands), I think we gave my mother heart failure whenever we played this game. As a four-year-old, I ended up pretty high off the ground. And yet I did this with confidence, and without fear. Until I got to about nine, and then suddenly I lost my nerve and I couldn’t do it anymore. I had acquired fear.
Fear is a learned emotion. We don’t possess it as children. Two things teach it to us. Firstly, we learn fear through consequence. If you get stung as a small child by a wasp, you learn to be afraid of wasps. If you touch a flame and burn your finger, you learn than fire is to be feared. The other way we learn fear is because the adults around us teach it to us. “Don’t play too close to the water; you’ll fall in and drown,” they say. “Don’t climb to the top of the climbing frame. You might fall off and hurt yourself.” The concept of falling hadn’t occurred to us before then. But once someone plants the idea in our head, it’s there forever.
It is the same with writers. Why do so many of us get discouraged? We fear failure, perhaps. As a child, I happily wrote story after story. I wasn’t really thinking about whether or not they were any good. I wrote them because I wanted to, and I didn’t really mind who read them. But then I hit puberty and my self-confidence took a pummelling. What if the stories I wrote really weren’t any good? Like George McFly in “Back To The Future”, I decided it was better not to let anyone read them, than have to deal with rejection.
I had to overcome this, of course, because I’d decided I wanted to be a published writer. I had to face my fear of rejection and start sending stuff out. I learned that rejection hurts, but it doesn’t kill you. I also sought to learn how I could improve my writing, and thus increase its chances of acceptance.
I think it’s this acquired fear that holds many of us back. We fear what we’ve written isn’t any good. If you’ve got one book published, you then fear that you’ll never write another one of publishable quality. You fear your book won’t sell. You fear you’ll never finish the one you’re working on. There are so many things that we fear. But we have to push on despite that fear.
So we are afraid of falling. That shouldn’t hold us back. Yes, we might fall. But if we do, we can get up and try again. Fear of falling shouldn’t stop us from the climb. After all, we might not fall at all, and in addition discover that the view at the top is spectacular.