By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of psychological thrillers
Being a writer is like climbing the tallest peak in the world. We barely get to enjoy the victory, when someone straps us down, tears our shirts open, and tells the vultures to bring it on.
Let’s face it: to be an artist is to be vulnerable. And perhaps a little unstable. We pour our souls onto the pages. We sweat. We cry. We scream a lot. We drink ridiculous quantities of coffee, but never enough to combat our emotional and physical exhaustion.
Not to mention, the brutal criticism, and really, there is no way to combat that. We read it, we cringe,and we may (possibly) throw some things (at least, I hear). After that, we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, taking what we can use, and throwing away the rest…that is, between the hysterical sobs, and guttural groans (also, of course, not a first hand experience).
Other sides of our artistry are a bit less brutal and far more enjoyable. If we do it right, we get to create worlds and characters from nothing other than our hungry imaginations, then watch them flourish into amazing stories. Also if we do it right, we relish in the knowledge that our readers are enjoying them, and more importantly, feeling them.
Of course, getting to that point is easier said than done.
In reaching that goal, my approach can be at times… a bit unconventional. Possibly insane. For me, writing a novel means feeling my way through the darkness and through my pages, essentially with no idea what the outcome will be. I don’t plan before I launch into my work. I write on instinct. As I do this, one persistent and nagging question pokes at me: Will this work?
The truth is, I never really know, and therein lies the insanity, because it’s usually not until the end stages that I realize I’ve actually got a cohesive story, and even more, one that people may actually enjoy. Even then, it’s not until my precious child leaves the mental womb-vacuum and takes in its first gasp of air that I start believing. And once again, living.
That’s where the joy begins. And the pain. And then more questions. When the book is “live,” I am overwhelmed because there is so much to take in. I watch my sales, watch my reviews. I question and re-question, examine and reexamine. I again assess whether my work is worthwhile, whether it did or did not, in fact, work. Even then, it’s all still a guessing game. There will never be finite answers to my many questions, and that’s part of this game.
Some might call my approach to novel writing somewhat random, somewhat reckless, and yes, somewhat unzipped, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing. But here’s the thing: I understand it, and even more, I know what drives it.
Is fear a bad thing? Well, no. It’s what keeps me from touching a hot stove (at least, on purpose), from speeding down the freeway at 100 mph (give or take), and from making inappropriate comments (well, most of the time).
And fear is what keeps me from settling for Just Good Enough. It keeps me on my toes. Without fear, my work would be a shining example of Just Average. And that’s something I can’t tolerate.
So I strive for balance, because balance means allowing my fear to work for instead of against me. That’s the real challenge. Turning fear into a driving force that propels me to do my best, to be creative as I can, and to push myself outside the comfort zone. I am then mobilized instead of paralyzed.
Whether we like it or not , fear is necessary in art and in life. Perhaps Father Everett said it best in the movie Daredevel:
“A man without fear is a man without hope.”
And there you have it. When all is done, I know the truth—that I’m not afraid to be afraid.
Andrew E. Kaufman's new and bestselling novel, Darkness & Shadows, has been touted as "A story about damage and survival, about the past and the future, and about facing the truth behind the pain."
Creative types seemed to be cursed, and blessed, with fear. We fear failure. We fear mediocrity and obscurity. We fear being outed as an imposter. I think we even fear peace of mind, because we need busy brains to create our stories. Crime writers must even fear the world around them to harness that distress and bring it to the page. But as you said, fear motivates us. And if you're not afraid, you're not paying attention.ReplyDelete
PS: I have every confidence your new story is as great as the effort you put into it. I admire your dedication to excellence.
Thanks, LJ, and I know you feel the fear much like I do. We are cut from similar cloths--you know...the P word (perfectionists). And you're right, fear can be a blessing or a curse, or both. It all depends what yo do with it. Either we make it work, or it works us over.Delete
Congrats, Drew! I'm sure it will be great.ReplyDelete
I loved your description of the writing process. It hit very close to home for me. Great job.
Thanks, Teresa. I think this is something that, we as writers, all have in common. And when you think about it, this is something all people in general have in common.Delete
I really love this post because it's so honest. I hear so many writers talk about how they write simply because of the joy, the creative surge that overtakes them, the artistry... Yeah, that's great. And I have those moments, but the reality is that we can often run a gamut of emotions when writing and go from strong self-confidence to equally harsh self-doubt. And fear... I hear you on the fear. Fear that what we're writing won't resonate with any reader, that we won't have a future... It's endless. And every stage has its own distinct area to be terrified of! Waiting for a book idea to hit, writing the actual book, anticipating editorial feedback and that some huge logistical plot error will be found.... Reading reviews, watching those damn sales numbers and ranks. And when things are good? When good reviews come in and sales are good? That's when we get afraid about how long that will last. Ugh. Why do we do this to ourselves? Oh. I know. Because the good times, the brilliantly wonderful times, make it so worth it.ReplyDelete
So true, Jessica. Every joy has its price...and for writers, payback can be a bitch. But when it's good? Man, is it ever good.Delete
I've been thinking about this all day. Trying to find the right words. Jessica's comment helped.ReplyDelete
My life is pretty much predicated on the idea that we make either love-based or fear-based decisions. Obviously, love-based is the smarter choice. Those decisions tend to be the best ones. And that's the environment I choose to hang out in when given the choice.
I'm naive about a lot of things. But put me in a dark alley at night and I'm right with everyone else. Full of fear.
But, on a normal day? Put me on a street in downtown Denver, I'm gonna feel safe even while I imagine what could happen... fit for a crime novel.
So, I guess what I'm saying is that I want to provide fear for my readers because I can relate to those fears and because I love them. But I want to prove, in the end, that our fears never win.
I'm not so sure you're naive, Peg. Sounds to me like you've got some pretty key things figured out.Delete
Andrew, you and everyone said it so well. It reminds me of a quote my psychologist gave me once...a quote from Osho in his book, Courage, The Joy of Living Dangerously: "Courage is not the absence of fear. It is, rather, the total presence of fear, with the courage to face it."ReplyDelete
How true that is, Linda. It's all about what you do with fear or, for that matter, every other emotion.Delete
Ahhhh, that is an amazing quote, Linda. Love that.Delete