Picking Up the Pen: Overcoming Your Fear and Becoming a Writer

By Robert Hilferty

About a month ago, my handsome buddy Sean Tuohy asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to Writer’s Bone. I told him I’d be delighted, as I’d had some ideas kicking around. And hey, why not?

I wrote my first piece titled “H.P. Lovecraft: Horror’s Racist Grandpa”. I wrote it and then told Sean I needed a week to look at it with fresh eyes to which he, being the kind gentleman that he is, obliged. I was proud that I was contributing to a website (on writing no less) and decided to tell a friend of mine about it. That’s when she tells me she’s read that blog post before. I’m not saying that I plagiarized the article (which you can read here), but rather, the idea had been done before and I found myself paralyzed. It’s not that I need to be a special snowflake or anything, but the fact that the core concept for my article down to the title was done and I felt as though it invalidated my whole piece.

H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Terror...and Racism

H.P. Lovecraft: Master of Terror...and Racism

Now at this point you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I don’t really care about your pity party. Suck it up and move on.” However, I think my situation, much like my article idea, isn’t so unique. There are plenty of creative people who can’t get over their own fear to pick up a pen, or sit down at a keyboard, and write. I’m one of those people. Now before I get going, this isn’t going to spiral into some kind of self-help pitch, nor am I here to give you any solid tips on how to directly get over your own fear, rather I’m here to tell you my own story in hopes that it might help someone. I seriously doubt it, but fuck it.

Let’s do this thing.

I’ve always struggled with calling myself a writer and what being a writer really means to me. It’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life. I’ve talked to a lot of people on the subject and the opinions range from “We’re all writers” to “You’re not a writer until you’re a best-seller.” In many ways both of those extremes are right and in just as many ways they’re both assholes. Even though I’ve written my entire life—poetry, journals, short stories, tabletop RPGs, you name it—I’ve never called myself a writer. I always say that I’d like to be a writer and, despite a lifetime’s worth of writing, I don’t consider myself a “writer.” It’s just never been something I can comfortably self-identify with. It’s like some major title with powers and responsibility.

Fear is a mind killer and it can really consume you if you let it. I sat there staring at my article and felt like it didn’t mean a damn, terrified that I’d be called a hack or a sham for writing something so similar to what someone else wrote. The entire process stressed me out and it took a month to realize something monumental.

Who the fuck cares?

I’m the only one who actually gives a damn about this piece of shit article I’m writing and I’d rather I have something to point to and say, “I wrote this! Here it is on the Internet!” than have it sit on my computer.

Part of my problem that I’m a perfectionist and I feel as though everything I write must be gold. I’m overcoming that delusion slowly coming to terms with the fact that not everything I write is going to be special or perfect. This might be obvious to most, but it has taken me a long time to have it sink in. I’ve been writing my whole life so why not let other people see what it is I’ve been writing? There’s an excellent quote from Steve Johnson in “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” that helps me put things in perspective:

This quote has helped me pull through a lot of hesitation in my writing and helps me feel okay when I fail spectacularly. I’m going to fail as inevitably as the next marketing push for Xbox Kinect, and now, unlike Microsoft, I get to learn from it all.

Seriously, how did they think this would be a good idea?

Seriously, how did they think this would be a good idea?

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Is it to simply suck it up and get over it? Was this whole article just a big apology letter for taking so bloody long to contribute to the Bone? Well sure, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

Writing is hard. At least for me it is. I put my heart on the page and blood in the metaphorical ink. Writing is who I am. I still may not consider myself a writer, but it’s what I do and it means too much to me to quit now.

Just try and stop me.

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