Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arguing with Sharks: Conquering Your Writing Fears

SharkImage by WildChild1976 via Flickr


I have never been a fan of horror movies. I saw Jaws on TV only a few years ago, and, even then, only the ending. Still, images of the female swimmer (which I must have seen in a commercial or TV special long ago) swimming along, being pulled under momentarily, and feeling down to find her leg missing -- just before the shark gets the rest of her -- occasionally haunt my dreams.

Sharks represent that horrible something you cannot escape. To me, it's the worst way to die. Teeth everywhere, and you know (for about two seconds) that it's going to lead to pain and dismemberment. You won't even leave behind a corpse to identify.

You disappear into a gnashing void for all eternity.

With other forms of death, there's at least a slim hope of escape. Murderers can sometimes be reasoned with. Thieves can be bribed. Burning buildings can be leaped from (and, if you're lucky, you'll only break a leg). Diseases can be cured.

But there is no arguing with a shark.

So, what do sharks have to do with writing? Technically, not much. Metaphorically, everything.

Writing is a lot like facing that inescapable something. If you want your words to be read, if you want them to have some sort of impact on the reader, and if you want them to bring you money, recognition, or whatever it is you desire, you must take risks.

You must send your written creations out into the void, knowing they may be ripped apart and disappear forever. You can't argue with an audience you may never see and which is going to judge your work in terms of how it meets their own needs and wants, regardless of your intentions.

In short, you must face your fears.

Recently, I had the opportunity to do that when I gave a pitch at the Pitchapalooza event in Kansas City, MO. Out of 20 or 25 people who got up to pitch their book in front a crowd of about 300, including five publishing experts, I was (by random drawing) the very first one chosen!

I had one minute to sell the experts on my idea for a novel about children with super-powers. (I don't use the term "super-heroes" for reasons I'll explain in a later post.) The experts liked my pitch and gave me valuable advice on improving it. Though I didn't win the contest that night, I walked away feeling like a winner: I had done something I'd never done before and learned a lot in the process.

Besides, there is hope even with a shark. In a recent dream, I was standing inside the shark's mouth when I noticed a giant stick or tree limb caught in its teeth. I grabbed the stick and jammed it between the shark's upper and lower teeth. Jaws couldn't shut its jaws! I then leaped out of its mouth and swam to safety. (Hey, it's a dream; it doesn't have to be realistic.)

There is always the possibility that a shark (metaphorical or otherwise) may eat me, but accepting that possibility makes it possible to forge ahead in spite of the fear.

So, bring on the sharks!

What are your writing "sharks", and how do you deal with them?
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