Hello everyone! Hopefully you all had a great Labor day weekend and spent all that extra time writing the next great book. If not, then now's a great chance to get back into a good routine and face those fears. In today's post MFAC faculty member Kelly Easton* talks about fear, writing, and family.
I survived my childhood for four reasons: my sister and my three brothers. My sister was pure love. I called her "the saint." My older brothers picked up my pieces on a daily basis and put me back together again.
One brother taught me to be a runner. He took me to track meets, told me to “run like hell” and bragged to everyone when I won, pinning the blue ribbon onto the family bulletin board. I would wait every night for him to come home from the movie theater where he worked. He brought me candy bars and frozen burritos, and we watched Johnny Carson and old movies. Luckily, my mom never made me go to school the next day, or most days. He took me to work with him where I watched the same movie over and over again, memorizing the words. It still bothers me to pay to go to the movies. Most importantly, he taught me how to play the piano, the single most important experience to my success in anything I’ve ever done, since I learned that practicing daily and making incremental steps would result, eventually, in beauty.
My oldest brother taught me to meditate, and ponder the stars, something that became crucial in my first novel, The Life History of a Star, a sort of homage to brothers. He also took my sister and I to live in a commune on the beach in Santa Barbara with a lot of naked people who chanted (This was the seventies in CA, folks).
My youngest brother was an adventurer. He built a race car and a speed boat in the garage. His scuba diving equipment hung on the shower, dripping onto the bathroom floor. He taught me to snow ski, water ski, and rock climb, though my mom wisely forbid him to take me hang gliding. Teaching should be in quotation marks, because his way of teaching me to ski was to drop me at the top of the mountain and let me alternately fly and tumble down. Still, to climb to the highest rock, or ski to the bottom of the slope was to be heaped with praise, which I, of course, craved. My favorite compliment from him was that I was “fearless.”
The truth was that I was not fearless, but feisty and determined, character traits that mute fear sufficiently in the present moment. I had a misguided kind of confidence; it simply didn’t occur to me that I would not make it down in one piece, or that in leaping over a crevasse, I might stop midway like a cartoon character and plummet to the bottom. Had I been afraid, I might have hesitated. Hesitation might be a fatal error.
Writing is not so very different than rock climbing or skiing, in that you need a certain amount of blind confidence. And like any other activity, fear tends to result in paralysis. Fear tightens the mind. Above all, fear is future oriented, the opposite of being in the moment, a necessary element to creating.
What do writers fear? Writers, who cannot write, may fear mediocrity, failure, self-exposure, or the new call to submit to the demands of social media. What do they do about the fear? Well, if I go with my childhood experience of rock climbing and skiing down the mountain, I would say, “Don’t look down into the crevasse,” and “Go fast. Don’t think. Hesitation might be a fatal error.” Lastly, and most importantly, is practice. As my son’s music teacher once wrote on his music notebook: “Only practice on the days that you eat.”
*Kelly Easton is the author of nine novels for middle-grade readers and young adults. Her most recent novel for children, The Outlandish Adventures of Liberty Aimes (Wendy Lamb Books), was a Jr. Library Guild Selection. Visit her faculty profile or website to learn more.