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My Ninja writing friend, Jim Denney, has written another handbook for writers. He’s one of those amazing people who can write faster and more fearlessly than anyone I know. I’m honored to share his post with you today and hope it brings you encouragement in your writing. Jim is the real deal. He takes time to encourage writers every day. I’m proud to have him as a friend.
How to Write Fearlessly
In Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction bestseller Dune, the hero, Paul Atreides, learns to control his fear by reciting the Litany Against Fear from the sacred rite of the Bene Gesserit religious sect:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
There’s great wisdom in those words. Fear is the mind-killer that obliterates our creativity and imagination.
Can we eliminate fear from our creative lives? No—and we wouldn’t want to. A certain amount of well-managed fear plays a beneficial role in our lives. Fear can paralyze us — but it can also alert us to danger and help keep us safe. That’s why the Litany says, “I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.”
Facing our fears makes us wiser and stronger. We must never allow fear, the mind-killer, to paralyze us or stampede us. Our goal is to control our fear through our courage. We acknowledge our fear, but we refuse to let fear control us.
Great writing is courageous writing. Any writing we produce in a state of fear will be self-conscious and shallow. If we fear the criticism of others, if we worry what readers and critics think of us, we’ll be afraid to take creative risks, we will be afraid to tell the honest truth. Our writing will be contrived, inhibited, and unconvincing.
Have you ever read a piece of writing that was written out of fear? I have. I can sense it when a writer is playing it safe — self-censoring to avoid being criticized. I’ve read passages where I’ve said to myself, “I know what this author wanted to say, but the author didn’t dare go there.”
I can smell fear on the page. I’m sure you can, too.
If you wrestle with fear when you write, I suggest you approach the blank page with a chip on your shoulder. Tell fear to get off your back and out of your way. Refuse to let fear have its way with you. Start writing.
“It’s the job that’s never started that takes longest to finish,” said Samwise Gamgee (quoting his Old Gaffer) in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. So accept your fear and get started. Go ahead and be afraid — but write anyway.
So you’re afraid of the blank page. So what? What can the blank page do to you? How can it hurt you? What do you have to lose by throwing some words — any words — onto that glowing screen, that blank page?
You can rearrange those words, play with them, do some word association, let one word lead to another, and before you know it, you’ll be writing. And your worst day of writing beats your best day of procrastinating, so you might as well write. As A. Lee Martinez observed, “Those who write are writers. Those who wait are waiters.”
So you’re afraid of rejection. So what? What’s the worst an editor can do to you? A rejection slip! A piece of paper that politely says, “No, thank you, not this time.” Rejection is nothing to fear. A writer who fears rejection is like a surgeon who fears the sight of blood or a symphony conductor who can’t stand violin music. If you fear rejection, why would you ever choose to be a writer?
Science fiction writer John Scalzi said that aspiring writers often ask him, “What if I send something out and it gets rejected?” His reply:
What do you mean “if“? Take this now and engrave this in your brain: EVERY WRITER GETS REJECTED. You will be no different. … The editor is not rejecting you as a human being or your right to exist on this planet. He or she is merely rejecting an article you’ve submitted. That’s all. That’s it.
It takes courage to be a writer. Not a lot of courage, not the kind of physical courage it takes to be a cop or a firefighter or a member of the military. But it does take a certain kind of courage to be a writer.
When you write, don’t worry about whether you’ll be rejected or whether or not you have talent. There are many talented people who will never accomplish anything because they lack the courage to write. And there are people of modest talent who have set the literary world on fire through their courageous writing.
Novelist Jessamyn West, author of The Friendly Persuasion, put it this way: “Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.”
I believe you’ve got the guts. Prove me right. Start writing.
Adapted from Write Fearlessly!, copyright 2013 by Jim Denney. Available in ebook and trade paperback editions. Jim Denney has more than a hundred published books to his credit, including Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly and the Timebenders science-fantasy series for young readers (beginning with Battle Before Time).