The Fear of Writing

I have spent my entire career “writing,” mostly as a serious journalist. Whether as a reporter, editor or manager, it all involved the skill of writing.

For years I have wanted to write a novel — as the old saying goes, every journalist has two chapters of a novel languishing in his bottom drawer. But there has been an invisible wall that always prevented me from going forward.

I have watched colleagues break through the wall and publish successful, well-received, quality literature. I even have seen several become quite wealthy from their endeavors.

So, why is it that I have been unable to get to Chapter 3? The answer is simple — resolving the dilemma was exceedingly more complicated. But the problem can be summed up in one sentence:

I didn’t have the courage to write.

Ideas were plentiful, drawn both from my personal experiences (“write what you know”) and from those around me. I would verbally discuss some of the ideas and experiences with colleagues and friends and more often than not what I heard was: “You should write a book.”

In his thoughtful, dynamic book The Courage to Write, prolific author Ralph Keyes explains why talented writers fear putting their thoughts on paper:

“Its psychic demands make writing an exercise in courage little different from climbing a sheer granite cliff or skiing down a steep slope. The real shock [for a writer] is discovering how demanding writing is not just of their skill, talent and work ethic — but of their valor.”

Keyes presents the fear of writing as a positive impetus to push yourself beyond what you consider your personal limits — a challenge to overcome a phobia, just like any other.

“Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn’t be one without the other” he writes. “The best writers exploit fear’s energy to billow the sails of their imaginations. They convert anxiety into enthusiasm and an unparalleled source of energy.”

So, why is it so personally difficult for many writers to get up the courage to write — and more than that to attempt to get their words published?

The lack of courage to share one’s words even has several names: The most common is Scriptophobia — the fear of writing in public. It used to mean literally the anxiety experienced when writing on a blackboard or even filling out a job application, but it has evolved to include making your writing public.

This fear does not just apply to writers of novels. It extends to non-fiction, poetry — even blogs.

As noted, the fear is easily explained; overcoming it is much more complex.

Procrastination; when will I find the time as the act of writing itself (for most) does not pay; what if I fail: What if no one cares what I have to say.

I had become an expert at using all these excuses. But I finally feel that the fear is gone and I now have both the intestinal fortitude and discipline to proceed.

Encouragement from colleagues has been a major factor. So has a subtle realization that if not now, then when.

But here is why I no longer lack the valor of a mountain climber and why I am tackling the project.

Simply put: Because it’s there.

Less trite, I have learned that the fear is shared by many — from the most successful to the ultimate novice.

There are several therapists driving around in Lotuses and even Maseratis, who have helped, but the most compelling reason I am writing my book is this:

If I don’t — who will?

As a final note: When it does come out, please buy my book?

What I Learned From a True ‘Lone Wolf’

The term “lone wolf” has become associated with a terrorist who acts on his own. I personally find this extremely offensive and quite inaccurate.
Not only because most wolves hunt in packs, but also because they are usually just looking for food — not to terrorize or create fear for an incomprehensible cause. Wolf hunting also has increasingly become a sport in several states — something I truly abhor.
I am not against the Second Amendment, nor am I against killing animals for food. But the idea of  killing a wolf, or any other animal, for sport, makes no sense to me.
And if you do insist on such activity, give the animal a chance — don’t go after him with an automatic weapon with a sight — because to me there is no sport in that.
But I somewhat digress. Here is my story concerning wolves:
lone wolf
I have always been an insomniac, ever since I was a child. Mom used to say “close your eyes, it’s the same thing.” Pops: “Don’t worry, you’ll sleep enough when you’re dead.”
When I was about eight, we rented a small cabin in Upstate New York, where my grandmother and I would spend the week and my Mom would come on weekends. (Pops had split years before.)
Unable to sleep, I would sit on the steps of the cabin before dawn and just watch and wait for the sun to rise. One morning, I noticed a fairly large dog in the distance watching me. This happened several mornings in a row.
Slowly, I began to coax the dog to approach me (I love all animals, but dogs rank way up there). The dog was extremely cautious, but slowly inched closer to me as the days passed.
But the dog would always disappear when the small street became active — as active as the small road in the sleepy town would become.
I figured that if I offered the dog some food, it might come closer — and it worked. It reached the point where the dog allowed me to pet him and even put his head in my lap.
I was ecstatic — my grandmother less so, because she couldn’t understand why last night’s leftovers were disappearing on a fairly consistent basis.
She didn’t buy my excuse that I got hungry in the morning. I figured I had to give my new buddy a name — so I named him Wolf.
I wasn’t sure what Wolf’s gender was, but I figured the name was generic enough to work. Wolf became more relaxed and friendly as we spent our dark mornings together; I even taught him how to play with a ball!
One morning, I was petting Wolf when I heard a click from across the road. A man was standing there with a shotgun and told me to slowly move away. I asked him why he wanted to shoot “my” dog. He replied: “That is not a dog.”
What happened next totally amazed me. Wolf got up and stood between me and the man with the gun and bared his teeth. The man again told me to move out of the way. I refused.
At this point my grandmother came out, wondering what the commotion was about, told the man to put his gun down and me to go inside.
Wolf bolted.
Several days past and my friend did not return; I was crushed. But then one morning, to my amazement he came back and brought me a bird — a dead bird, mind you — but still a gift.
So what did I learn from my wolf, Wolf? Resilience, loyalty and the need to know who your friends really are. And, yes, after a scolding from my grandmother (you didn’t mess with Mama!) the hunter left us alone.
So the next time you hear the term “lone wolf” referred to aterrorist — or hear of wolf hunters who can’t keep their own herds in check, or hunt for a trophy — remember the true Lone Wolf.
And I miss him — daily.