Dear Teachers Write! campers,
So… I hear some of you are kind of scared about this whole writing thing. Jen Vincent mentioned that many of the comments on her Teach Mentor Texts writing group blog post today were about anxiety over sharing your writing, or being good enough. She thought I might want to blog about that, and she was right.
This is where you’re probably expecting me to say, “Don’t be afraid” or “There’s no reason to be scared.” But I’m not going to say that.
Be scared. That’s absolutely fine.
Because you know what? I’m scared, too. I put up a blog post a few days ago expecting a dozen people to sign up for a cozy little online writing camp. And then I turned around and there were more than 600 of you. Way cool…but for sure, a little scary, too.
I’m also scared when I start a new book. When I was writing my first book, I thought this would be a temporary thing…that the second and third books would be easy and fun and fearless. But no. Turns out they’re all scary in different ways, and making art – the very process of making art – is inherently fear-producing. (There’s a whole book about this idea, by the way – ART AND FEAR by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s excellent.) But making art is scary in a good way.
You see… there are two kinds of fear. The first kind keeps you safe from things that might cause you real and imminent harm.
My son and I encountered this cottonmouth while we were hiking in the Everglades in April. We were scared, and we quickly identified our fear as the kind that saves you from danger. With this kind of fear, it’s good and healthy to act on your fear and run away to avoid venomous bites and other potentially fatal things.
But there’s another kind of fear – the kind that we feel when we’re about to exceed the artificial limits we’ve set for ourselves. When we’re about to step outside of our cozy little boxes and try something new. Something that’s scary because we might fail. And what will people think?
I learned a lot about this kind of fear in March, when I gave a TED talk at the organization’s annual conference in Long Beach.
Photo by James Duncan Davidson – TED
There were 1500 people in the audience, including CEOs of huge companies, inventors, producers, engineers, a former vice president, and other leaders in just about every area imaginable.
One of the other speakers was Bill Nye the Science Guy, who said something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. He told one of the other (scared) speakers, “If you weren’t nervous, it wouldn’t be worth doing.” And he was right. I was terrified when I stepped onto that stage. Absolutely terrified. It was extremely uncomfortable. But I learned so much from the experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The kind of fear I was feeling is not the kind we should avoid. It’s the kind of fear we should seek out because it gives us opportunities to be brave and to grow. In fact, nervous writing camp member Colby Sharp reminded me this morning that Mattie Breen, the main character in Linda Urban’s brilliant novel HOUND DOG TRUE says it perfectly: “You can’t have brave without scared.” It’s true.
That twist of anxiety you feel when you think about sharing your writing? Think of it as a big, huge billboard in your heart that says, “GO, YOU!! YOU ARE DOING SOMETHING AWESOME AND NEW!” And after you do the new awesome thing, you will never be quite the same. Your world will be a little bigger. And this is good.
So go on now. Be scared. Be brave. And write.