A few words about fear

Now that I’m committing to writing more on my blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear! BOO!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Come back!

I really believed, before this, that I wasn’t able to post as much as I wanted because I didn’t have the time. But that wasn’t it at all. Because really? I didn’t have the guts.

It’s hard to put yourself out there. Some days it’s harder than others, of course, but there’s always a risk that you’re going to get a negative reaction to what you’ve written. You can’t anticipate what will set some stranger off on a tear about how much you suck. It doesn’t get easier, either; once you get some experience under your belt, you start to anticipate the reactions to whatever it is you’re writing. You imagine the people who aren’t that into you reading it and smirking. They’re like your Inner Critic come to life—a whole Greek chorus of voices telling the world how overrated you are. And then you stop yourself from writing, or you tell yourself you need more time, more inspiration, more something. That’s letting fear win, and by winning, it gets stronger, and the feeling snowballs. Pretty soon you’re also imagining all the people who think you suck because you don’t post enough. And then you’ve locked yourself in a closet and you’re wearing tissue boxes for shoes. It’s not healthy, kids.

I’m not bringing all this up just to talk about me, although THE INNER WORKINGS OF MY MIND ARE FASCINATING. This fear comes up all the time, for anyone being creative. I’ve seen people get paralyzed with fear after they’ve encountered public criticism of their work. I’m sure you’ve seen it as well. I’ve received emails from people who want to die of shame because someone wrote to them to tell them they suck, or posted a comment to the same effect.

Sometimes the comments people get are laughable. I’ve seen commenters who criticize a writer’s typo, or a picture of them, or arrive on a site with no prior knowledge of the blog at all so they can leap to all kinds of inaccurate conclusions. Some people are nuts, and unfortunately, some people who are nuts can also work a computer.

And yet writers can be devastated by this stuff, even when they themselves realize how silly the actual comment was. It can make them feel small and stupid. Because on some level they believe they’re not good enough, and now they feel like they’ve just been outed. Like they’re not worthy of love, and worse, they were stupid to want it.

Let me just say it: we all want to be loved. It’s okay to write because you want to be loved. That is completely okay. That is, in fact, an excellent reason to write. And if you feel terrible because of a mean thing someone wrote, that’s also okay.

Here’s a statement that deserves a separate paragraph: if no one dislikes you, you’re not doing it right. If you get mean comments, or read something critical of your work, it means people have an opinion about you. And that’s essential. Good job.

You can’t write something meaningful, you can’t create art—and let’s just call this art, okay? I think we can—unless you are willing to be yourself. Yourself, with all your quirks. And you can't be yourself without some people disliking you. It’s not possible. Pick a celebrity you think is absolutely above reproach, and then Google him, and read all about the people who think he’s the worst. Stephen Colbert, Anne Lamott, David Sedaris. There are people who hate them! How crazy is that? (Maybe not crazy to you, but to me, certainly.)

But those people don’t matter. They’ll move on. When you are intensely yourself, with all your quirks--and look, we all have them, no matter how normal you think you are—and you can create something, whatever it is, that expresses that, you're speaking to someone else's quirks. And the thing is, everyone thinks they're weird and unlovable, at some level. So when you speak to that part of someone, they open up. They feel better. They bloom a little. You've just changed someone else. Think about that. Five other people might not get it, but so what? A hundred people might think you suck, but you’ve just helped one person have a better day, and how incredible is that?

The only thing we can do in the end is be brave. No one can escape being disliked, and no one can escape being loved. Go for it.