Let's talk about fear shall we?
Writing is an inherently terrifying proposition. Laying your thoughts and ideas bare for the world to see. Those soft, fragile things that burst forth mewling and covered in afterbirth that you love but you also kind of hate becasue they drive you crazy. In an act of bravery or abject foolishness we share these ideas, our stories, with friends and strangers and we pray , if you are so inclinded, that they won't laugh, unless that is your intent, or worse , stare at you blankly and mumble
"That was nice."
Those words, delivered with all the sincerity of a used car salesman, are among some of the worst words a writer can hear. I don't want "nice" I want amazing! I want incredible! I want you to stand there slack jawed and drooling. I want my story to move you. Well there is only one way to get that kind of response.
You have to face your fears.
I'm working on a novel that tells the story of two fathers. One black , one white both ex-cons who are trying to avenge the murders of their sons, gay men murdered in an apparent hate crime. My protagnist are not role models. They are both older alpha males trapped by their own demons and the rapidly outdated ideas of masculinity. These hard men did not have great relationships with their sons. Some would coll their relationships strained, Others might call it toxic.
I've let some people see the early chapters of this book because A) I'm tackling a subject that i feel demands nuance and sophistication and I want to make sure I'm on the right path. B) I have some friends who are some of the best writers working today (I'm looking at you Nikki Dolson and PJ Vernon) and I selfishly want to sit at the base of their learning tree.
Most everyone who has seen the nascent novel have been exceedingly kind. For that i humbly thank you. However,my agent, who's job is to make sure i write the best book I can challenged me. I start the novel at the funeral for hte boys. He read the first few chapters and then asked me why I wasn't starting it with the murders? To paraphrase him , that's the firecracker that will set the book off.
I took a few days to ruminate on the answer.
In the end I realized why I hadn't started with the deaths of the sons of these imperfect men.
I was afraid.
If I'm being honest , and why wouldn't I , we're all friends here right? , I was afraid to go there as the kids say. I didn't know if I had the skill and ability to enter the minds of parents who are confronted with the absolute worst thing any parent can experience. I was afraid to try and articulate the searing,soul crushing, heartbreaking feeling that comes after you hear that your child , your baby boy , is on a cold metal slab. And frankly I was afraid to feel those feelings myself. I don't have children but when I write a piece of my mind melds with my characters. It can lead to some dark thoughts and late night whiskeys to cauterize the wound in my consciouness.
Here's the thing though. I firmly believe that if you want to be a writer you HAVE to go there. You have to metaphorically drive through the bad neighborhoods. You have to walk down the dark roads. You have to claw and scratch through the dirt. It is the only way you can make sure you are being true to the story that lives in your head.
I saw an interview with Bruce Springsteen the other day and he said an artist is someone who tells lies in service ot the truth. I believe the job of a writer is to tell the truth. No matter who doesn't want to hear it. No matter who might feel uncomfortable. No matter if it might hurt some feelings and step on some toes. Tell the truth. Even if your voice quakes.
Now some people might take this to mean that you can say whatever you want and no one should challenge your words. That/s not what I'm saying. Oh you can say or write whatever you want but I believe in the depths of my heart that you better be ready to stand by whatever princples you espouse. That's a part of the equation too. Have the courage to stand by your convictions even if somone decides to call you out on Twitter. Or Facebook or the Do Some Damage comment section.
You don't have to be fearles as writer but you have to be brave. Fear is not a sign of weakness but surrender sure is.
If you consider yourself a writer you can never, ever surrender. To quote Al Capone
"I'd rather swallow my blood before I swallow my pride."