I Ain’t Skeerd (Actually I’m Terrified)

One of the things I tend to do with this whole writing business is to make decisions based on the level of fear it invokes in me. The more terrifying I find the potential for something, the harder I dig into myself to actually do it. So as I mentioned in my previous post, I mentioned writing a short story for the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon in 2014. What I didn’t mention is how close I came to not doing it in the first place.

The idea of writing something and reading it in front of a group of unknown people was terrifying. I remember looking over the schedule of events for the symposium and wondering if I could do that. No, no I’d never be able to do that. I was certain of it, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.

At the time I didn’t know any other writers closely enough to feel confident to ask them to read my stuff, so I mostly asked friends and family who historically gave me high praise. But I knew I needed more. I needed someone to tear me down – in a good way. I needed someone who would be able to separate the bullshit from the Shinola and help me become better in my craft.

I don’t want to be overly critical of my alpha readers, they’ve been wonderful in helping me grow and develop. They’ve encouraged me and pointed out some fatal flaws. For all of that I’m desperately grateful. But they weren’t industry insiders. They weren’t people who did this for a living or even as a hobby. I needed that next step in critique, and that’s why I kept coming back to the idea of writing something and having it critiqued by actual strangers.

It was terrifying to consider. I shook visibly as I reached for the button to reserve my spot. My guts twisted, pushing acid into my stomach higher and higher until I could almost taste it. I salivated nervously and licked my lips before swallowing several times.

Then I pressed the button.

Instantly I felt relief. My guts unwound, and my salivation returned to normal. I still trembled slightly, but it was over. Finished. Complete.

Except it wasn’t. Now I had to write something to read in front of four editors. Fuck.

I went with an idea I had about a young lady being led through a tunnel and into a room where ghouls dined. I didn’t have much more than that, and I wrote it up pretty quickly. That first version was around twelve hundred words. I revised it four or five times after getting input from my readers and ended up with something I’m rather proud of.

When I attended the event at GenCon I was trembling once again. The panelists were really funny and interesting people. They all seemed to know each other and talked and talked and talked and OH MY GOD STOP TALKING I’M DYING HERE!

And talked.

Ooo! I found my notes. The panelists were Jason Schmetzer, Kerrie L Hughes, Dylan Birtolo, and John Helfers. They seemed really cool in all honesty. But I was full of anxiety and ready to go. I mean that literally and figuratively. I wanted to flee, to give up my spot at the table I had secured for myself and go away. It was a terrible idea in the first place. Why did I even consider doing this very, very bad thing?

AND THEY’RE STILL TALKING! HA! HA! HA! HA! THAT WAS FUNNY CAN I DO THIS THING NOW?! AAGH! STILL THE TALKING!

It may not seem like it, but I knew it was only my anxiety being a dick, and it was on point with its dickishness too. I had made a pact with myself, however. I’d worked hard to polish my turd into something I thought was good or at least good enough, and damn it, I was going to see the ordeal through to the end.

Once they FINALLY started, they asked for volunteers. I didn’t want to be first, but I did want to get things over quickly, so I ended up going second or third. They were pretty nice to me I think. They had a range of items with my piece including: The pacing was wrong for someone who’s nervous. Who was this person escorting her? Surely they knew each other somehow for her to go with him. Apparently I gave too many details (sight, sound, texture) too often.

There was more, but I forgot half the things they said almost as soon as my turn was over. All in all, it was a good experience for me. I mean, I wrote a horror story – something I don’t even read very often – and they didn’t laugh me out of the building. Well, maybe they would have had they been assholes, but they didn’t which told me the writing world has some good guys in it. It also told me to keep trying, to keep going, and to get better because there may one day be a place for me – eventually, maybe.

So that has become my model. If I consider doing something and it scares me, I do it.

My latest adventure is to take the Writer’s Digest University class “Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing” taught by Philip Athans. I haven’t done an online class like this before, and I’m really interested in how it goes. I really didn’t want to spend the money, but so far every time I’ve considered something and did it despite the cost in time and money, I’ve later looked back on the experience and thanked myself and God that I did it. Each thing I have done has helped me grow in my craft, and I am thankful for it all.

So I implore you. If there’s something scary about your art – not dangerous scary, but stupid anxiety scary – and you hear yourself saying “if only …” please, please, please make that jump. Do it. Swallow that stomach acid. Take slow and steady breaths. And press the button. You’ll be glad you did, because at the very least you won’t be sitting around one day and think “if only …”

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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