Writing Through Fear

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We’re all scared. Let’s just start there. No matter what stage of writing you find yourself in, fear is the constant adversary that will track your every move and hunt you down. Just when you think you’re bulletproof, you’ll plunge headlong into a sea of depression and be overwhelmed with waves of doubt. As a writer, this is normal. And it is useful. Breathe.

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Column by Brandy Vallanceauthor of WITHIN THE VEIL
(June 28, 2016, Lyrical Vine Press), winner of the 2013
Operation First Novel and the 2012 winner of the ACFW
Genesis Contest for historical romance. Brandy fell in love
with the Victorian time period at a young age, loving the customs,
manners, and especially the intricate rules of love. Brandy's love
of black
tea can only be paralleled by her love of Masterpiece Theater
Classics, deep conversations, and a good book. Follow her on Twitter

Fear is the marker that tells us we are getting close. When you’re most afraid about a scene or one of your books, it’s because you showed up. You bled on the page. And no one likes to be vulnerable. When we tell our secrets and our deepest truths our brains start to panic. Even if what we write is only a metaphor it doesn’t feel safe. You are cracking the door and letting people peek inside your soul. That, initially, doesn’t feel good. However, this is the only thing that will result in powerful, life-changing stories. This pattern has continually happened to me throughout my career. The articles or scenes that I am most afraid of people reading are the ones that speak to people the most.

(Classifying Your Book: How to Research & Target Literary Agents.)

I’ve recently been listening to podcasts with Brené Brown. Brené talks a lot about vulnerability and fear. Here’s one of her quotes: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

If you’re asking your deepest questions when you write—and I hope you are—you are going to be afraid when it comes time for the story to go into the world. This doesn’t get easier as you publish more books. Among my writer friends we have a saying: Releasing a book is like being chained to a lamppost naked in your neighborhood and the sun is about to come up.

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For the past week, I’ve been waking up in a panic every day. Why? My second novel, WITHIN THE VEIL, is about to release. And I showed up big time in this book. I explored my deep questions and I bled on the page. When I finished writing it I cried for three days. And not just wimpy cries—great, soul-rending sobs. During one of these bouts, I was listening to music with my headphones on and my husband asked me what was wrong. He seriously thought someone in my family had died. My reply: “It’s just so beautiful.” I was different. I had been transformed through the writing. I had learned things and gained answers to questions that I didn’t even know I had.

When I received my edits back for WITHIN THE VEIL, I experienced a few weeks of being emotionally paralyzed. I had a hard time even opening the document. What was that about? Fear, of course. The fear of being seen and being truly known. And while my second novel is by no means autobiographical—far from it—my subconscious knew where that story took me and how emotionally invested I was.

(Querying? Read advice on how to find the most target agents to query.)

Here’s what I’ve learned through this process: Fear is our marker and fear must be embraced. There is one way of dealing with this—plunge in. Spread your arms open wide and let go. When fear comes—and it will—congratulate yourself. You have shown up. You have been authentic and true to yourself. Bravo my brilliant, courageous colleagues. That kind of writing will always connect with readers. That kind of writing will make people turn the pages. And with each turn of the page, you’ll change the world.

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