Are you writing from Certainty or Fear?

Where do you find your focus to write each day? Is it from the fear of failure (or success), or is it from the certainty that you are on the path?

David Seah : Getting Focused 03: Certainty and Survival

There are two kinds of focus:

Focus that Comes from Certainty — When you are certain that something is worthwhile, it’s a lot easier to do. Following through with that certainty is all that you need to focus; if you have any doubt at all, or lack faith, then your focus is doomed to waver and be tested. It occurs to me that this kind of certainty is a necessary component for following your bliss; in more mainstream terms, it’s that one thing that puts everything into perspective; everything falls into place after that. I think this is a kind of focus that comes from within.

Focus that Comes from Danger — The other kind of focus arises when your survival is at stake. It’s the boss breathing down your neck, or that big deadline, or the competitive thrill of crushing your opponents. It’s feeling that you’ve got skin in the game, that the lives of others are in your hands, or that you don’t want to let someone down. This is an entirely different mechanism, I think, from that which drives “focus from within”. What we’ve got here is something that’s fueled by adrenaline and competition.

I’ve written from both places and I have to say that I much prefer to write from certainty. It’s a more pleasant place, filled with warm thoughts and cool breezes. Writing from a sense of danger leads down dark paths. It turns the art of creation into a mean end and draws out all the good feelings a writer has for their art.

Writing from fear will eventually drive you away from your art. It’s only a matter of time.

Dealing with Fear

The daily fear is the most difficult part of writing, and I find that fear of success is far worse than fear of failure. I can handle the idea that I will be a failure much easier than te idea that I will be a success. That’s because writing is so important to me. This isn’t a paradoxical as it sounds. When you haven’t tasted success, it is a big unknown. Will you succeed today only to tumble down, down tomorrow? Can you recover from a fall? There is no risk in failure, especially in writing. No one knows that you have failed except you. However, once you have success, everyone will know when/if you fail.

From what I have experienced, there are only two ways to get past the fear:

  1. Write it out – Sit down and write out the reasons for your fear (success or failure). Describe the worst possible scenario in detail. Put that bit of writing in a drawer for at least a week and then take it out and read it. At first, like any draft, you will probably wonder who on earth wrote this thing. Of course, you’ll know it was you, some version of yourself that you no longer completely recognize. After that, you’ll begin to wonder exactly why you were afraid (even though the answer is right in front of you). Keep this letter to yourself in plain site. Tack it up in front of your writing desk. When you start to feel anxious, take a look at that letter and remember that the fear is ridiculous. It’s just you and the words after all.
  2. Read a first novel – It doesn’t matter who’s first novel. I happen to have a few lying about that I keep for just this purpose. I pick one off the shelf and start in. Soon enough, my mind is reeling over how awful the work is and I begin to get angry. Eventually, the anger turns to laughter because I’m upset over nothing. I remember that everyone starts the same way one every book: a blank sheet of paper and a whole lot of fear that they won’t be able to do it again.

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